There’s Nothing Spiritual about ‘Blessers’
This was one of many sobering points made by girls aged between 10-24 during a debate on October 15, sponsored by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) DREAMS initiative. The debate was part of an all-day event which also featured cultural celebrations, health services, and other activities in uMgungundlovu.
The topic of Blessers – older men who “bless” young girls with material possessions in exchange for sex – is directly related to the DREAMS broader goal of reducing HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women aged 10-24.
Andiswa Moloi is a DREAMS Ambassador and she believes debating the Blessers topic helps girls educate each other about the consequences of such transactional relationships. “This is such a good opportunity to teach younger girls what they should be aware of”, she said. Another DREAMS Ambassador, Minenhle Dladla, of the Umgeni region, said Blessers openly prey on girls in the streets, in clubs, and in taverns. “They want to ‘bless’ girls with hair braids, shoes, clothes, cash, and outings to fancy restaurants, so many girls say yes, because they want to enjoy themselves and need the money. Today we are saying to our peers they need to stop and think about the risks.”
DREAMS Ambassador Khethiwe Dlamini summarised the key message of the day by saying, “Always treat yourself as a dream girl. Finishing our schooling is important because we cannot achieve our goals without a good education.”
DREAMS, which stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe adolescent girls and young women, promotes and supports the creation of Girls’ Clubs through NGOs implementing the program in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. These provinces, through evidence from the Department of Health, have been identified as having high-risk and high burden of HIV and teenage pregnancies. Through the Girls’ Clubs, girls meet regularly to empower each other using their various talents.
The DREAMS Ambassadors are young women aged 18 to 23 who were chosen from within the DREAMS programme in each community based on demonstrated peer leadership. Their role is to support, counsel and equip the girls with the knowledge they need to avoid HIV and AIDS, live productive lives, and realise their dreams.