Securing a positive future for Zambian girls

Peggy Mumba (black suit) with a former student midwife (Barthromeo Kamlewe) who is now serving another rural community.

According to the international non-profit organisation Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with 31 per cent of women aged 20 to 24 years being married by the age of 18. Also, a study conducted by the UN Populations Fund in 2015 found that 16.5 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years were married. Many of these marriages occur in the rural parts of the country, including the Nyangwena and Chiota communities.

Australia Awards alumna, Peggy Mumba, is working to address this challenge. With her Master’s of Midwifery (Maternal Child Health) from Flinders University, she initiated the Girls Empowered and Resilient (GEAR) project together with two colleagues, Johans Mtonga from the Zambian Centre for Communication and Namooya Malungo, a nursing officer at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka. Ms Mumba is the Acting Principal and Sister Tutor at the Ministry of Health: St Luke’s College of Nursing and Midwifery.

While attending a district integrated management meeting, Ms Mumba was stunned by the high prevalence of teenage pregnancies in Nyangwena and Chiota and decided to investigate the drivers behind this. After meeting with influential community stakeholders such as traditional leaders, teachers, ward councillors and church leaders, she found a range of socio-economic circumstances behind the teenage pregnancies. Coming from low-income families, many girls resort to transactional sex to make ends meet. This behaviour makes them vulnerable to the risk of pregnancy, maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases.

Ms Mumba found that when the girls fell pregnant, many of their parents forced them into early marriages to benefit from the dowry that they will receive. Traditional practices and beliefs came into play, and Ms Mumba recognised the opportunity to address these beliefs when talking to the adult stakeholders in the community. She also wanted to educate the girls and empower them, since a lack of information about their rights and the lacking access to protective measures against pregnancy and STIs (within and outside of marriage) made them vulnerable.

Ms Mumba and her colleagues established two youth-friendly health centres in Nyangwena and Chiota communities to provide family planning services to adolescents. Following the launch of the centres, 76,510 condoms had been distributed to adolescents in three months, compared to 12,222 for the same period before the introduction of the project. The centres also selected 15 teenagers from the community to act as peer educators. The educators are teaching other adolescents the importance of education, sexual health and marrying at an appropriate age. The GEAR project has played a direct role in educating girls on their rights and empowering them with sexual and reproductive health information. Through Ms Mumba’s interventions, many girls now have access to family planning services and sound information.

In addition to Ms Mumba’s community advocacy, she has also made an impact through the midwifery training she provides at the School of Midwifery at St Luke’s College of Nursing and Midwifery. With the skills and knowledge gained from her Master’s degree, she has introduced a midwifery curriculum, thus contributing to enhancing midwifery skills in Zambia. The childbirth rate at health institutions that have implemented her training has increased to 80 per cent as opposed to 43 per cent before the commencement of the midwifery training. Ms Mumba is not only contributing to Zambia’s development by securing the future of the youth, but she is also helping to reduce human resource challenges in Zambia by training in-service students in midwifery.

Peggy Mumba, far left in a brown skirt, and Johans Mtonga, far right in grey pants, with the group of peer educators.

Peggy Mumba is a member of the Australia Awards Women in Leadership Network (WILN). The network is made up of over 350 female award alumni who focus on leading change in their various spheres of influence, throughout the continent. For more information on the network, click here.

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