Research in 2019 found that adolescent girls and young women, while being at increased risk of acquiring HIV, are not focused on HIV prevention as a significant issue or meaningful priority. It recommends that building a successful HIV prevention strategy means supporting young women in their journey to navigate healthy sexual behaviours and relationship management overall (Breaking the Cycle of Transmission). Informed by this, the My Journey Adolescent Girls and Young Women Programme, funded by the Global Fund, developed an innovative tool for engaging young women on the programme.
The My Journey Journal was designed to be an aspirational tool, packed with health and wellness information, aspirational quotes, prompt pages to guide reflection, planning and adherence tracking and blank pages for doodling, bullet journaling and reflection. The content and design of the journal has been guided and informed at every stage of its development by validation workshops and feedback surveys with young women.
The response to the journal has been encouraging. In the latest feedback survey, conducted with 300 young women, almost 90% rated the journal either good, great or brilliant. One young woman remarked:
“It helped me realize that women have the power to run the world and that anything is possible if you’re determined.”
There was a fairly even spread of the types of areas respondents came from with 39% saying they lived in a peri-urban area, 36% in a rural area and 25% in an urban area. The majority of respondents were young women between 19 and 24 (56%) while 39% said they were between 14 and 18. Most reported being HIV negative (82%) with only 6% saying they were living with HIV and 8% saying that they did not know their status. Interestingly, more than the expected number of young women were either pregnant at the moment (3%) or had ever been pregnant (27%) representing almost a third of the group.
The young women were also asked about their access to cell phones and digital applications. The overwhelming majority said they had access to a cell phone (95%) and kept that phone most of the time (89%). Most respondents had WhatsApp (79%) and SMS (71%) capabilities on their phones, while only 48% had email, 59% had a camera and 60% had access to the internet.
The response to the journal was overwhelmingly positive – with the young women loving the design and layout and finding the content useful. One person noted:
“I love it. It is helping me finding my journey, setting my goals, taking care of my body, the book has the services that helps me to know about the services and the help I could use if I need help. I have also used this book for others who had asked for advice from me with certain issues and it feels great that they ended up getting the help they were seeking – meaning this book is not only helpful to me only but to others too.”
Respondents were asked about the journal content and how they used it. Most said they read the information pages (72%), with 56% saying they used it for planning and goal-setting. Use of the trackers (36%), the blank pages for doodling (35%) and finding services (29%) was fairly evenly spread. It seems as if the journal was also successful in motivating the young women:
“It makes people feel special and unique.”
“I think this book will help me to build my future.”
We asked the young women how we could improve the journals. Many of the respondents did not have any suggestions and liked it the way it was. Others had suggestions for improvements including requests for more information pages on topics like sexual and reproductive health, career choices, goal setting and planning. A number of young women wanted to make the journal more widely available by digitising some of the content and getting it into other schools:
“The journal is really great and it is really helping me a lot and I would it love if more girls to have it even if they are not in the program.”
Based on the feedback surveys and suggestions, the programme will be publishing another version of the journal with some adaptations, including more information pages on topics such pregnancy care and menstrual health, the Youth Employment Service (YES), advocacy and activism and sexuality and gender. We will also include more blank pages for reflection and investigate how to digitize some of the content for sharing on social media.
Most of all, we hope the journal will continue to inform, engage and inspire adolescent girls and young women as it did for this young woman:
“I really loved it so much. It is absolutely perfect and really motivating and lift up one’s spirit to think more and love oneself.”