Initiation ceremonies as an entry point to HIV and AIDS prevention in Zambia: A study of traditional counsellors, Girls and young women in Lusaka Urban

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Mayaka, Simwinga Josphine
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HIV and AIDS is having a widespread impact on many parts of African society Zambia inclusive. Zambia, in southern Africa, has one of the world’s most devastating HIV and AIDS epidemics. More than one in every seven adults in the country is living with HIV and life expectancy has fallen to just 39 years. In 2009, nearly 83,000 adults were newly infected with HIV, which is about 200 new infections each day (UNAIDS 2008). In sub-Saharan Africa, the UNAIDS (2006)reports that around 59% of those living with HIV are females. This is attributed to the legal, social and economic disadvantage faced by women in most societies. The purpose of this study was therefore to determine the possibility of using initiation ceremonies as entry points in the fight against HIV and AIDS.The sample consisted of two groups of subjects. The first group comprised women who initiate girls (banacimbusa/Alangizi) and the second group was made up of girls/women who had undergone initiation rites in the recent five years. There were 100 respondents, 50 of whom were initiators or women who were involved in the initiation rites and the other 50 were women or girls who had gone through initiation.Purposeful sampling was initially used to identify girls and women (initiators and the initiates) who had experienced initiation. Then snowball sampling was used to indentify other participants with similar characteristics to the first group. Data was collected from the initiators and the initiated girls using two different questionnaires (see appendix I and II). Structured, semi structured and open ended interviews were used in order to cater for the diversity of participants. The researcher also spent time with the girls and women under study during initiation ceremonies and made observations of what was taught in initiation rites. Secondary data was collected from library materials such as text books, reports including journals on initiation ceremonies in traditional societies and even modern social set up. The results showed that initiation ceremonies are widely practiced in Zambia and they are used predominantly to teach about sex and sexuality to girls attaining puberty and young women about to enter marriage. Little or no information on HIV and AIDS is given during initiation rites. However there is a lot of potential for such messages to be passed on to the initiates because the curriculum of initiation rites can easily be adapted to include awareness and HIV prevention.There is a lot of potential inherent in initiation ceremonies and rites that can be tapped in the awareness campaign on HIV and AIDS. Initiation rites contain elements that can be used to empower and liberate women especially with regard to HIV and AIDS. They are the tools for acquisition, learning of habit, based on harmony with the spouse, parents, in-laws, and older people in general and mastering of conflict resolution mechanisms. Initiation rites equip maturing individuals with a vast body of special attributes that a woman is supposed to know and deal with through out her life. Therefore they can be adapted and should be incorporated in awareness and prevention programs for HIV and AIDS.
HIV/AIDS---Prevention , Marriage Councillors , Initiation rites---Zambia