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"Zathu: bringing boys and girls together, to forge a more equal Malawi"

Girl Effect launched Zathu in April 2017 in an effort to tackle HIV and inspire behaviour change among adolescent girls and young women in Malawi through a branded approach. Using the power of music and storytelling, the nationwide initiative seeks to reach girls and boys aged 12-17 in an effort to:

Communication Strategies: 

Zathu is a locally built brand that Girl Effect created to be rooted in Malawian culture, creativity, and real youth engagement. "Zathu", meaning "ours" in Chichewa, centres around a group of 6 boys and girls (aged between 17 and 22 years old) who are characters in a fictional band that is coming together to create "the new sound of Malawi". As "ambassadors for change", the young people role-model progressive, positive relationships between girls and boys. A weekly radio show, narrative music videos, and live performances show them forming friendships while navigating the weight of traditions, family and community expectations, and their own dreams.

Zathu's activity and content is built around Girl Effect's thinking on social norm and behaviour change. According to the organisation, for a brand to connect at a deep and emotional level with its audience, enough to inspire behaviour change, it must be entertaining, rooted in local culture, reflect its audience, and be of value. While many of the issues Zathu tackles are very serious, it is the entertaining content that is meant to bring the audience in, thereby fostering emotional connections with Zathu's storylines and characters.

To ensure that Zathu would accurately reflect stories young people in Malawi can recognise and relate to, Girl Effect co-created the brand with boys and girls throughout the country, conducting focus groups, in-depth-interviews, creative exercises, and product testing. The organisation also worked closely with youth groups, teachers, parents, and religious and community leaders to ensure these figures would be supportive of the approach and champion the Zathu brand.

Specific components of Zathu include:

  • Music: Music holds a central place in Malawian culture. Blending traditional Malawian influences with modern beats, the band first released 3 singles, followed by a full album made up of 7new songs (Click here to listen to Zathu's album). Sample titles include: "Siine Mwana" ("I'm not a child") and "Panga Zako", the latter of which has the message: "I can be who I want to be". Click here to watch the Zathu music videos on YouTube.
  • Radio Show: Now in Season 5, two weekly episodes feature music, real-life stories, an agony aunt (advice columnist), and a drama about the 6 friends in the Zathu band. Radio drama episodes (click here to listen) deal with themes linked to specific behaviour change goals, such as positioning girls and boys as equal, encouraging girls to speak out, improving safety, equipping girls and boys to practice positive SRH behaviour, and destigmatising HIV. Zathu also looks at dispelling some of the myths around HIV and transmission, such as the belief that having sex with a virgin girl cures a man of HIV/AIDS and that boys who have been circumcised cannot contract HIV.
  • Events: Zathu brings the radio show to life with live performances, stories, advice, music, and drama in schools, youth centres, and public spaces.

In March 2018, the Zathu band members were invited to perform in London and Glasgow, the United Kingdom (UK). Zathu took the opportunity to give a number of presentations and performances, including to the Scottish Government, the Scotland-Malawi Partnership, and Girl Effect partners.

Development Issues: 

HIV/AIDS, Youth, Girls, Gender

Key Points: 

According to Girl Effect, Malawi is steeped in inequality and gender divides. Rachel Sibande, chair of Girl Effect Malawi, explains: "From puberty, boys and girls in Malawi are largely kept apart. Platonic friendships are discouraged because the only relationship that society expects from them is a sexual one. Girls are told to avoid boys as it could be damaging for their reputation. This dynamic is not only unhealthy, but puts girls at risk. Despite these divisions, there is widespread desire among younger generations to be closer together. They believe that if girls and boys can support each other to reach their potential, it will create a stronger, thriving, more equal Malawi. Zathu is all about encouraging young people to see that we are stronger together."

Negative social norms towards girls and women can have widespread health and economic implications. Malawi has more than double the rates of HIV in Rwanda (3%) and Ethiopia (1%) combined. A Malawian girl between 15 and 17 years old is more than 8 times more likely to be living with HIV than a boy of the same age.

Girl Effect believes that, by improving the perceived value of girls - by girls themselves and those around her - Zathu can have a knock-on impact on wider health and poverty indicators. For example, by informing girls and giving them confidence, they will better understand why their wellbeing is important, seek help, and be more likely to visit a clinic.

Band member Theresa, who plays Mphatso, said: "Like a lot of girls from Malawi, I became a teen mother in real life too, so I can strongly relate to my character. I feel responsible, but I feel like a kid, because I'm still young. It's good to connect to those feelings and share the sentiment with others who might be feeling the same. I've spoken to girls who have been inspired to go back to school after having a child like I did."

Zathu band characters are well known across Malawi. As of November 30 2018, 6.7 million people were aware of Zathu (64% of Malawi's population aged 10 years old and over); 4.4 million had listened to Zathu's music; 2.3 million had listened to Zathu on the radio (Pa Wailesi), 957,000 had watched Zathu's music videos, and 130,000 had used Zathu's website. Furthermore:

  • 86% of people who listen to Zathu agree that the brand has taught them females should be treated equally to males.
  • 91% say it has made them feel more in control of the issues that affect their lives.
  • 93% of girls and 89% of boys said the brand has helped them improve their friendships with the opposite sex.

In Malawi, girls have less access to media than boys of the same age. Zathu is working to grow its reach amongst 12-17 year old girls, in particular.

Partner Text: 

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) partnership.

Contacts (user reference): 
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