USAID: $10.4 Million to ‘Empower’ Girls in Malawi to Use Birth Control

July 14, 2014 - 2:47 PM

Malawi schoolgirls

Schoolgirls in Malawi. (Photo: UNICEF)

(CNSNews.com) -- The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to spend up to $10.4 million in taxpayer dollars to “empower” young girls in Malawi to use birth control.

The grant is aimed at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV - which disproportionately infects young females in Malawi - even though such efforts have failed in the past.

As part of USAID’s “Girls’ Empowerment through Education and Health Activity” initiative, the grant will fund Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Family Planning (FP) education for girls ages 10-19.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Services are defined in the grant announcement as “family planning, HIV testing and counseling, volunteer male medical circumcision and HIV treatment.”

USAID’s family planning initiative joins the "global partnership" pushing Family Planning 2020 in its aim “to enable 120 million more women and girls to use contraceptives by 2020.”

The grant seeks to remedy what it calls the “insufficient provision of quality adolescent Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) education and services for youth to prevent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections,” in Malawi.

It explains that “sexual acts that resulted in a pregnancy also place girls at risk for leaving school and/or contracting HIV,” citing a study carried out by the Population Council in Malawi which “highlights pregnancy and marriage as the two frequently reported reasons for early school discontinuation among girls.”

The grant cites the 2010 Malawi Demographic Health Survey (MDHS) which “shows that HIV continues to disproportionately affect females, particularly young women. In 2010, the HIV prevalence rate for girls 15-19 years of age was 4.2 percent compared to 1.3 percent for boys.”

The grant calls for an increased capacity and level of comfort to teach about SRH, FP, and HIV, saying it is “critical for ensuring that youth learn the correct information about these topics,” and names the adoption of “risk mitigation and pregnancy prevention behaviors” as a goal.

However, the 2010 MDHS reveals that despite a dramatic increase in the use of modern family planning in Malawi over the past decade, HIV prevalence has remained “essentially unchanged.”

“Nationwide, use of family planning has increased since the last MDHS in 2004, when just 28% of currently married women were using a modern method of family planning. Currently 42% of currently married women are using a modern method of family planning,” according to the MDHS.

“The 2004 MDHS found that 11.8% of the total population in Malawi is HIV positive. Though the 2010 MDHS found a slightly lower overall HIV prevalence, the decrease is not statistically significant and does not signify true changes in the population,” the MDHS explains.

“Given that the increase in the use of modern family planning services in Malawi has not resulted in any significant decrease in HIV in the general population, why would it be taught to school children as a means to prevent HIV?” CNSNews.com asked USAID, “Will other methods of HIV prevention be taught?”

However, USAID did not respond to these questions by press time.

The grant also aims to improve “reading skills for girls in upper primary school” and decrease “key structural and cultural barriers for girls’ access to schooling.” The grant announcement claims that along with SRH education, this “will lead to improved achievement of girls in upper primary and secondary school.”

USAID has announced that it will award between $4.5 million and  $10.4 million on this initiative. The grant was announced on June 19 and USAID said it will accept applications until September 3, 2014.