On the Front Lines of Global Women's Health
When she was younger, Tarisai "Tears" Wenzira dreamed of being a nurse like her mother. After Tears' parents died when she was 15, she went to live with her grandmother, a farmer, along with three siblings and her late aunt's three young children. When she was forced to drop out of secondary school to help her grandmother support their large family, Tears felt the dream of becoming a nurse slip away.
With little education and a lack of job opportunities, Tears drifted into marriage and motherhood at 17. After three years of struggling to cope with both, she divorced her husband and returned to her grandmother's home in rural Wezda, this time with her two young daughters.
Again she found herself in search for a job to help support her family. This time, she found one as a hairdresser. It was at the salon that she was first approached and trained by PSI to promote and sell female condoms to her clients.
"I remember learning about PSI when a field officer visited our salon and introduced the care female condom and its role in HIV prevention. She demonstrated how it is used and coached us on how to teach our clients on correct use of the condom as well as negotiating for its use with their partners," Tears says. "She sold some condoms to us for resale to our clients, and when I realized some profit from the sales, I became interested and agreed to continue."
Twenty-one percent of Zimbabwean women and 14 percent of men are HIV-positive. Yet, cultural and gender dynamics often prevent women from purchasing and initiating condom use. PSI found that hair salons can break through these cultural barriers. According to research, a majority of women in Zimbabwe visit a hair salon at least once a week and spend about 45 minutes to an hour there each visit. Clients often become friendly with their hairdressers and discuss social issues.
Tears became one of the more than 2,000 hairdressers in Zimbabwe who work closely with PSI as part of a program—co-funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.K. Department for International Development—to prevent HIV transmission by promoting the use of female condoms to their clients. During discussions with their clients, hairdressers show women how to use the product and let them touch and feel it. Research also showed that lack of knowledge about how to insert the female condom correctly and fear of its size were also barriers to use.
Today, Tears, a radiant 28-year-old with beautiful hair and a welcoming smile, has remarried and has a third daughter. She has moved to Chitungwiza, a small town 19 miles from Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, where she continues her work as a hairdresser, advocate and educator. Tears sells 100 female condoms per month and makes a profit of $4—enough to buy basic groceries like bread and milk for her family. In 2009, PSI sold more than 2 million female condoms, and more than 50 percent of them were distributed through the network of 1,700 hair salons across the country.
Tears is proud of her confidence to talk about the female condom, even to clients who are more educated than herself. "My work with PSI has been an eye-opener. Despite my incomplete secondary education, I can confidently speak about the care female condom to women and men, some of who are professionals." She also feels her work with PSI has benefited her family. She introduced her sister, who is HIV-positive, to the female condom. Her sister is happy and now enjoys a normal sexual life.
Tears' strength to overcome her life's hardships has made her a powerful advocate for PSI's HIV prevention and family planning efforts.
PSI Ambassador Debra Messing met Tears during her visit to Zimbabwe in December 2009. Visit PSI.org to see the photos.
PSI is a leading global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV and reproductive health. Working in partnership within the public and private sectors and harnessing the power of the markets, PSI provides lifesaving products, clinical services and behavior-change communications that empower the world's most vulnerable populations to lead healthier lives. Learn more at PSI.org.
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