Today is International Women’s Day. Rather than celebrate it for just one day, FHI 360 will pay tribute to women throughout the month of March by sharing stories from participants in the SMARTgirl program.
Led by FHI 360, SMARTgirl is a human rights-based, holistic, sexual health program in Cambodia. The program aims to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV among entertainment workers in karaoke bars, massage parlors, brothels and on the street. The contributions of entertainment workers to HIV prevention in Cambodia have been remarkable. Nevertheless, they remain vulnerable to issues such as unplanned pregnancy, illicit drug use, sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
The SMARTgirls who will be blogging will tell you about their day-to-day experiences living a high-risk lifestyle and the reasons they do so. Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman now living in Cambodia, will tell you about the struggles of earning a living by selling sex. Somany will explain that she was born male but lives and identifies as a woman. And you’ll hear from others. All are either at high risk of HIV or have already acquired it.
As you read along this month, we invite you to enter the SMARTgirls’ world through these stories of hardship, discrimination and inspiration. Most importantly, we hope you will celebrate the positive qualities these women demonstrate, not the least of which is their willingness to open up their lives to us.
The SMARTgirl program stands apart because of the positive, non-stigmatizing and engaging tone that runs through all messaging, materials and interventions. Above all, SMARTgirl is a responsive initiative that listens to its participants and uses evidence to promote women’s health and well-being in a complex, changing Cambodian society. The program is successful in reaching entertainment workers because it engages them respectfully, recognizes what is important to them and celebrates their positive qualities.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, SMARTgirl is run under PRASIT (Project for HIV and AIDS Strategic Technical Assistance), which means “effectiveness” in Khmer. Learn more about SMARTgirl and PRASIT here.
1 In this series, real names of program participants are not used.