« 100 YEARS – 100 LIVES » | MALAWI – “I have learned that nothing is impossible”

An innovative ILO programme helped Ivy Njati and other HIV vulnerable women in southern Africa to start their own business.

Reportage | Malawi |
LILONGWE – When talking about life prior to starting her business, Ivy Njati chooses her words with care: “It was difficult to get money, I had nothing to do, and because I needed money I had to do all sorts of bad things... you can imagine.”

Before joining the “Tung arts” youth association of Mzuzu in 2012, Ivy, 24, was like many young unmarried women in Malawi’s third largest city: unemployed, with few prospects of meaningful work and struggling to find money to survive. Her dream of opening her own shop was lost in the daily hustle of city life.

Her lifestyle was also making her particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. With few other options she had to resort to sex work for additional income, exposing herself to an elevated risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

A new approach

It was to support Ivy, and others like her, that the ILO set up an innovative HIV and AIDS awareness programme.

However, unlike similar projects, this programme aimed to harness economic empowerment to enhance the quality of people’s lives and, at the same time, improve their ability to prevent HIV transmission, access health services or cope with the existing HIV infection.

When launched in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi, the CEEP programme originally concentrated on people living and working in transport corridors. Statistics show the challenge for the people of these nations, especially women who are particularly vulnerable.

Reaching the community

In 2012, the CEEP programme expanded to communities neighbouring the transport corridors, particularly to cover vulnerable women and girls.

Through national committees made up of workers, employers and the ministries of labour, the programme began to select women’s groups as a way to help communities. Beginning with HIV awareness training and using the ILO tools such as “Start and Improve Your Business” and the more targeted “GET Ahead for Women in Enterprise Training Package “, individuals and groups began to use this training to improve their economic status and physical well-being.

Access to loans

In Mzuzu, Ivy Njati was able to open a small shop selling clothes. She now has ambitions for expansion: “My clothes are for everybody… I get them from Tanzania currently but I am planning to go and source more clothes from the South of Malawi, once I get some big orders.”

A key element to the programme is the insistence that those women who need financial assistance to begin their businesses receive loans, typically around 8,000 USD per group.

Indeed, for Ivy Njati repaying her debt was significant: “… The business is mine, 100 per cent!” she says.

However, not all the dividends from the programme are financial. “I have learned that nothing is impossible,” Ivy added, "… I am so happy and proud.”

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