The Umhlanga Reed Dance is an annual cultural event held in Eswatini, where young maidens from all over the country gather to celebrate their virginity and womanhood. The dance is a significant part of Swazi culture and tradition, and it is a time for the maidens to come together and learn about their heritage and responsibilities as future leaders.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in Umhlanga Reed Dance workshops for young maidens. These engaging sessions provide an opportunity for maidens to learn more about the dance, the cultural significance of the event and most importantly, other social issues involved in the development of a girl child. The workshops, held during the duration of Umhlanga cultural event, also teach maidens about their rights and responsibilities as women, and they provide a safe space for maidens to ask questions and share their experiences.
Maidens who took part in the Umhlanga activities at Ludzidzini and Mbangweni Royal Residences were educated on social and health issues not limited to the HPV vaccine, breast cancer, sex education, adolescence education, menstrual hygiene, teenage pregnancy avoidance, arts and culture as well as economic empowerment.
Even though a collaborative effort was noted from various educators sharing insights and in depth knowledge to the maidens, which was met with a number of questions, comments, misconceptions which were cleared as part of the engagement sessions, ETA will share teachings from Khulisa Umntfwana and Nhlangano AIDS Training Information and Counselling Centre (NATICC).
The Khulisa Umnftwana organisation leads the traditional sector response. Within this sector, there are traditional events that provide an opportunity to provide information and services to participants. This often provides a captive audience of large numbers of the population at one point. This year’s Umhlanga Social and Behavioral Change Campaign theme was dubbed “Eswatini Sivikele Umliba, Sinaka Imfundvo” simply translated as in Eswatini we protect the children and pay attention to educating them. The vision is to assist the country in averting any risk to HIV that may arise as a result of the event as well as position Umhlanga in the spirit of promoting the chastity of women in keeping with risk reduction to exposure to HIV. Eswatini Tourism Authority (ETA) engaged Bheki Shabangu, a representative from Khulisa Umntfwana on the maidens engagement sessions. “The campaign envisioned to educate and empower adolescent girls and young women on Life Skills Education with an intended outcome of reducing the number of young people contraction HIV and AIDS, which is in line with the National agenda of reducing new HIV Infections.” he said. Shabangu went on to mention that the campaign intended to reach members of the Imbali regiment participating in the national cultural event with up-to-date information on HIV and AIDS risk assessment, menstrual health and hygiene, early and unintended pregnancy (EUP) and gender-based violence.
As an organisation, NATICC took part in the renowned cultural event, with an aim of spreading the gospel of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Teenage Pregnancy (TP) Prevention. During the event, maidens were sensitized on GBV Prevention as well as the importance of reporting cases of abuse. NATICC Officers also highlighted the significance of avoiding engaging in early sexual debut as this could increase one’s risks of HIV infection as well as sexually transmitted infections (STI). Sidney Dlamini, NATICC’s Prevention Officer, said the maidens appreciated the guidance they received from NATICC on issues of GBV, TP and SRHR, as these are topics that are scarcely discussed within their homesteads.
“As a take home, the maidens were furnished with information, education and communication material in the form of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (2018) and the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act (2012) for their indulgence.” Dlamini said. The maidens were encouraged to focus on their goals as well as take critically analyzed and active decisions about their lives so to avoid engaging in risky behaviors that could cost them their future.
Performing groups commissioned to provide edutainment were briefed on communication topics such as menstrual hygiene, improvement of parent to child communication on youth friendly sexual reproductive health services and the importance of education overall. and Performing groups were requested to these issues in their performances through drama, poetry, song and dance. Issues of girl child sexual molestation by elderly men were very prominent. The culprits were featured as close relatives to the child such as fatherly figures, uncles, and elderly boys. These men enticed the girl child by giving them pocket money for their stay at the Reed Dance. The plays demonstrated what is likely to happen when the girl is coerced into sex. The plays conveyed strong warning to the girls to avoid favors from scrupulous men who would make them pay back for such favors through sex. The positive role of the parent or next of keen of the child was encouraged to ensure that the child is protected from sexual exploitation.
ETA commends all the organisations and partners involved in these Umhlanga engaging sessions and encourages all maidens to take heed in the “Eswatini Sivikele Umliba, Sinaka Imfundvo” call the teachings provided in these platforms.
Eswatini Tourism Authority continues to drive its mandate to encourage responsible travel in the Kingdom of Eswatini and promotes Eswatini as a preferred destination.
Umhlanga Collaboration Partners
The Ministry of Health
Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture
George Town University
Dreams on Wheels
Nhlangano AIDS Training Information and Counselling Centre (NATICC)
Safeguarding Young People Programme (SYP)