Persuading a people to let go of their traditions can be as difficult as bending steel but KMG-Ethiopia has been successful at doing just that. The organization began community conversations to stop dangerous cultural practices that often lead to HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues.
According to KMG, traditions of female genital mutilation and forced marriage fuel HIV/AIDS in its country.
“Young women are given away to men who are much older than themselves. Young women in these communities do not have a choice,” KMG said. “This harmful practice violates young women’s rights to choice and freedom of association and puts them at risk of HIV and AIDS.”
The organization started their work by asking communities to elect peers who would be trained as facilitators. These facilitators now lead groups of 50 people in discussions that present basic facts about AIDS, relationship power structures and negotiating condom use.
Ethiopia has experienced a 90 percent drop in the transmission of HIV/AIDS between 2001 and 2011 – the largest decline in the rate of new infections of any country in Africa. And from 2005-2011, the country has seen a 53 percent drop in deaths caused by AIDS, from 113,825 to 53, 831 people.
After a trip to observe community conversations in the region, Michel Sidibé, the UNAIDS Executive Director, noted that during the conversation, taboos and misunderstandings surrounding sex and HIV/AIDS would be debunked. In some instances, Sidibé said local groups would change their opinions on age-old practices like arranged marriages.
“It doesn’t stop when they superficially raise their hands, or when religious leaders say ‘we declare it will stop.’ It has to come from inside the community,” KMG founder Bogaletch Gebre told the New York Times.
Due to the success of KMG, the government has recently integrated community conversations into its HIV/AIDS prevention strategy.
The method was first developed by Dr. Moustapha Gueye, an organizer of anti-AIDS networks throughout Africa. Gueye took the idea to the United Nations Development Program (pdf) which then reached out to KMG to pilot the method in Ethiopia.
Today, 85 percent of the people in Kembata-Tembaro, Ethiopia participate in community conversations and this year, Gebre’s work won her the first African Development Prize of the Belgium-based King Baudouin Foundation.
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(Photo: Courtesy of KMG Ethiopia)