Sexually Transmitted Infections

Despite the dangers, adolescent girls are increasingly engaging in risky sexual behaviours, which—when coupled with limited knowledge of disease transmission and prevention— put them at a significant risk. Early sexual initiation both within and outside marriage, multiple partnerships, and unprotected sex are among the behaviours that make girls vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as gonorrhea and chlamydia and reproductive tract infections (RTI). Shaping these behaviours are the conditions of sexual relationships for many adolescent girls, including transactional sex, serial monogamy, and marital sex with older and more experienced partners.

HIV/AIDS
Sport can help create a dedicated safe and social space for adolescent girls which is a key strategy for changing girls’ self-concepts and is a proven approach for transforming the very circumstances that put them at risk of acquiring HIV. As previously noted, these safe spaces function as platforms for the delivery of new skills, increased social support, and greater opportunities for girls. Vulnerable girls can gather regularly at these safe sporting spaces to meet peers, consult with mentors, and acquire skills to help them avoid or mitigate crises (e.g., threats of marriage, leaving school or forced sex). In generalised HIV epidemics, community-based, girl-only spaces can assist girls in:84

  • Planning for seasonal stresses, like school fees and food shortages, which often increase pressure to exchange sex for gifts or money.
  • Accessing entitlements, including HIV-related ones such as social grants for HIV-affected households.
  • Accessing voluntary counselling and testing for HIV or antiretroviral therapy directly or on referral.

Sport programmes can also facilitate team health check-ups by bringing in doctors or health workers or taking “field trips” to local clinics for check-ups. Team environments can foster courage and support. For example, if public HIV testing is a service that your community offers, perhaps organise a day when all participants have an opportunity to go together. Utilise the event to have an open forum discussion afterwards about their emotions. In areas where travel is difficult, invite doctors/nurses from a nearby clinic to address the team, answer questions, and administer tests in private surroundings. As with all SRHR discussions and exercises, it is critical to emphasise confidentiality amongst participants and service providers.

Tip: Set Them Straight
Adolescent girls’ misconceptions about HIV/AIDS can be misguided so it’s important to correct them as soon as possible. After such a discussion, it’s also wise to check back with them and see what they remember. Understanding HIV/AIDS, particularly for adolescent girls, may take more than a single conversation.

Useful Example – Guest Speakers
On occasion, it can be helpful to invite guest speakers with specific knowledge and experience to visit your programme. For example, someone living with HIV, a health care provider, a social worker, etc. This can give girls an opportunity to explore basic factual information, ask questions as well as explore their own biases, fears, stigmas. At SCORE, based in Zambia, the involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS has been a very positive contribution towards the education of their volunteers. During SCORE events, different individuals have given motivational speeches or been part of the activities.

Useful Example – District AIDS and STI Coordinator
In 2010, Moving The Goalposts in Kenya, conducted family health days at football fields. The purpose of this activity was to bring services closer to their players so that they can easily access them. The District AIDS and STI Coordinator from each district were at the forefront in making sure there were enough service providers during the event. The activity made a great impact on the lives of young girls because they had their health checked and received drugs when necessary. From the 937 players, 125 were counselled and tested for HIV.

Useful Example – HIV/AIDS Education
Based in South Africa, the Waves For Change programme is a pioneering project that is harnessing the power of surfing to teach young adults more about HIV/AIDS and connecting clinics to their immediate communities. Their sport and HIV/AIDS education programme aims to foster low-risk behaviour and can be divided into six fields:

  1. Improving participants’ knowledge about HIV/AIDS and STIs, especially about ways of contraction
  2. Raising participants’ awareness of being at risk
  3. Fostering equal relationships as opposed to having multiple partners
  4. Building participants awareness of peer pressure’s negative effects and showing ways of coping with it
  5. Building participants awareness of the negative effects of stigmas and showing ways to break it
  6. Raising self-efficacy beliefs about low-risk behaviour

Follow Noncedo and Michelle and the other girls at Waves for Change as they blog about how they are challenging gender norms and transforming their lives through surfing!

Adolescent Girl Life Skills:

Practical Ideas: Goal Programme Sessions

Further Reading
Skillz Street – An overview of Grassroot Soccer’s girls and gender-based approach,
Commitment to Practice: A Playbook for Practitioners in HIV, Youth and Sport, provides recommendations and tools for developing promising practices within sport-based youth HIV/AIDS programming.