In Malawi, Chimwemwe Banda was abandoned by her parents when she was a young girl; she and her sister were left to take care of themselves. Without money to pay for basic needs or tuition, Chimwemwe was forced to drop out of school. In hopes of improving her situation, like many girls in Malawi, she entered into an early marriage— Chimwemwe was only 15 years old on her wedding day.  Soon after she married, Chimwemwe realized that life was not going to get better just because she had a husband.

Chimwemwe Banda is one of the many girls who has benefited from a Go Girls! community intervention. Photo Credit: Hilary M. Schwandt/AFP

Early marriage, along with behaviors such as transactional and intergenerational sex, contributes to girls’ vulnerability to HIV. Chimwemwe is just one of the 600 million girls living in poverty who are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Similarly, girls who are orphans, early school leavers, socially marginalized, and/or migrants have a heightened vulnerability to the virus. Worldwide, women and girls bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; according to the World Health Organization, AIDS is the leading cause of death among women aged 15-44 worldwide.

Socio-economic factors like poverty, along with gender norms such as expectations around early marriage, can lead to increased vulnerabilities that discourage girls from asserting control over the timing and circumstances of sex, including negotiating protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Most interventions to date have focused on individual-level behavioral change without sufficient consideration of the structural factors that fuel the epidemic. USAID is working to address this imbalance through the Go Girls! Initiative.

In fact, it was Go Girls! that stepped in to help Chimwemwe. With their assistance Chimwemwe dissolved her marriage. Her village developed a community mobilization team that recognized the detrimental effects of early marriage on girls, and advocated delaying marriage as a strategy for maintaining girls’ health and encouraging their educational pursuits.

Since the end of her marriage, Chimwemwe returned to school. She now leads a happier life and enjoys going to school everyday. “I feel good about being back in school,” she said. “If I had the opportunity to advise other girls, I would tell them not to marry early but to continue schooling because school is good. I am working hard at school every day so that I may have a brighter future.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

World AIDS Day 2010

On World AIDS Day, we commit to build upon our successes and continue to make smart investments that will ultimately save and improve millions of lives.  Join us this week as we highlight some of our successes and share stories of those helped by our programs.

If you’d like to learn more about the Go Girls! program, including how to access free copies of the Go Girls! program materials, contact