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#WhatWomenWant

*Beyond Disability; Addressing violence against women with disabilities at the workplace!

Post by Nyasha Museruka,

During
this 16days of activism(25th November- 10th December) ,and throughout the 2019, I  have been reflecting on the abuse that
 women go through..I mean all women in their diversity!.  Why does violence against women and girls have
to so normalized in society? I thought at some point that was the qualification for
one to be  accepted in society…… As a young woman with aspirations, goals dreams, hopes and visions, I am all too
clear on how this normalization gets seeded at a tender age. It all starts ‘playing
house’, a rite of passage harmlessly girls must go through. Then it goes to imitating
our mothers, wearing their oversized dresses and shoes, taking certain roles
and professions (often less paid and care giving kind). I didn’t know that these
roles and professions may come up with a huge prize to pay—psychological,
physical, emotional, sexual, verbal abuse, only to mention some. Mainly women
suffer the consequences of GBV at workplaces. That is where one is told you
can’t do this job because you are a woman and to add salt to the wound with a
disability. Verbal and emotional abuse happens every day at workplaces, if I
complain that I can’t do this work, my colleagues or superiors will ask you
“Why are you here? Better stay at home and do what women were created for”.
When people see a woman with a disability, they see what she cannot do first
not the other way around.

At a middle stage in my life I developed a
spine condition called spinal scoliosis. This saw some of the dreams and
aspirations I had shattered! The condition limited me to do the job of my dreams(hence
ending up pursuing another profession. Growing up I wanted to be a policewoman,
but I ended up being a teacher because my physical stature did not meet the
requirements of one joining the police force. I couldn’t run or do the training
due to my condition. Despite joining other profession, it was not all rosy. 
I have had to deal with all forms of violence, having a disability has paved an
easier way for the perpetrators. You will be told it is a privilege to get a
job as a woman with a disability to get a job, so you have to return the favor
by paying “in kind” or lose the job.

This
is when I realized it’s a tough world, being victimized because you are a woman
and double tragedy because you are a woman with a disability. One fellow woman
told me that even if you get the job it would be a window dressing, you are not
supposed to participate meaningfully because you got a job whilst being
disabled. You will be their glory but not for your expertise. The tokenism is
suffocating!!

Violence against women and girls at the workplace has been so casually
accepted as normal!!,  I am here to
confirm that being disabled and young triples the ordeal. With all the myths
surrounding disabilities the perpetrators go unnoticed and no one reports the
cases. This needs to stop immediately! We need to have a world where women and
girls are safe and free from violence at workplaces. Women have a right and
should be able to access equal opportunities to realize their full potential
regardless of their differences. I have potential, skills and expertise to
offer at my workplace, so let it be safe! I
have chosen to make lemonade out of the lemons thrown at me. But not every
woman has been able to and women and girls should not always resort to making
lemonades out of lemons!!

I’m grateful to organizations of women and for women who has awakened the
activist and the fighting spirit in me to rise up and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Violence
against women and girls at workplaces has to stop. I know what I want is a JOB
not SEX for a job.

Here are my 2 cents for how to make workplaces safe for women with disabilities.

- See the person first before the disability. Focus on what I have to offer rather than what I cannot do.

-  Give women spaces and opportunities to prove
themselves. One cannot prove she is capable by being abused to obtain a job.
Men create an equal environment at the workplace because we all can do it if
given the opportunity.

- Working policies that
protects women’s interests and rights at workplaces should be put in place. 

Ms. Nyasha Museruka is part of the ATHENA Network as the #WhatGirlsWant Country focal point for Zimbabwe. Nyasha is a passionate gender/SRHR/disability activist. Nyasha is a teacher by profession. She has been into the journey of advocacy since 2012 up to date. She has been in many forums like ICASA, ICPD and SARSYC representing young women with disabilities as well as AGYW at large.


Young Feminists at the centre of public health

Post By Nyasha Sithole


As a young
advocate transitioning to a young professional in the field of public health to
improve the lives of adolescent girls and women, finding myself in Seattle was
the moment of a lifetime.

Promoting the
rights and wellbeing of adolescent girls and women is work that has been
carried over the years since time immemorial, with the emergence of a focus on
improving service delivery on public health, there is need for feminists’ women
leaders to continue pushing for the conversations to have a gender lens.

The News: 

The HIV and
Women workshop, preceding CROI was a learning platform. In this space had an
insight on different researches being done to advance the lives of women with a
focus on HIV and AIDS. In a panel to link communities with researchers on the
needs of adolescent girls and young women the call was to engage young women in
a mentor-ship activity to support participation and engagement in research.

In July 2019 the
world will be expecting to receive results from the ECHO trial, which in simple
narrative was a research to find out if hormonal contraceptives especially Depo
can increase risk of HIV acquisition among adolescent girls and women. Therefore
as young women leaders we met with key personnel/researchers leading the ECHO
trial at global level to discuss on the role of young women in preparation for
the results and scenarios of the expected results. As a takeaway from these
meetings was the understanding that no matter the outcomes of the research it is
important to keep advocating and standing up for reproductive choices of
adolescent girls and women and not forgetting the reproductive rights of those
living with HIV. This is because girls and women are diverse and need to be catered
for differently hence CHOICE is important.

Political Decisions and CHOICES

A visit to the
Gates Foundation headquarters, included having a dialogue with Gates staff on
#WhatGirlsWant around the integration of HV and Family Planning. Young
feminists present called for a holistic approach towards information dissemination,
service delivery on HIV and FP. Our call was one’s board cannot be separated
into half to represent HIV and the other FP but as the wholesome of one’s body
is the same wholesome one’s access to reproductive and HIV information and
services should. I particularly spoke on unpacking the word CHOICE as an
acronym:

C- Confidence of
adolescent girls and women to discuss and choose their needs according to their
diversity

H- platforms where honest
conversations can be done, conversations on accountability towards health and well-being
of adolescent girls and women

O- Organised advocacy,
investing in resources, technical capacity and capacity strengthening of girls
and women led community groups to engage in reproductive health conversations
and service delivery too

I-   Informed choices still remain the best choices and this should be
the cornerstone for information dissemination and service delivery

C – Community engagement,
participation and inclusion still remains a priority

E - Excellency in service
delivery needs to make sure it recognises autonomy and diverse choices of adolescent
girls and women.

Happy Hour- Making Connections between Global North
and Global South Women leaders

After a particularly
hectic week of engaging in global health discussions,I had the opportunity to
meet powerful  and strategically positioned women leaders in Seattle who are mobilizing and working around public
health. The informal session encouraged a space of sharing experiences on
advocacy in the global north and advocacy in the global south. Possible future
engagements in mentor-ship so that young women leaders from the global south can
improve skills and knowledge in public health advocacy.

My hope is that engagement of AGYW in global spaces
should not only be limited at community level but should also expand into
global spaces including the World Health Assembly. There is need to invest in
mentorship for AGYW and capacity strengthening to engage especially now that
more than ever civil society space to engage keeps shrinking.


What choice means to young women

By Cleopatra Makura

Have you ever had one of those moments in
life, maybe you are stuck in a conference room trying to listen, but instead you
end up gossiping with yourself? Suddenly you have a moment of fear in thinking
back on some small decision you regret having made in your life? That moment of
humiliation, your own self will not let you hear the end of it. We all make
choices and do things we wish we hadn’t. But the one good thing, even when you
regret, is if you had many options and what you did was a choice you
made.

It’s Monday 22nd October 2018
and I am in Madrid, Spain attending the HIV Research for Prevention conference.
I am participating in a panel discussion, titled ‘Whose desire, Whose choice?’.
It was a lively  and wellmoderated discussion, with speakers from funding agencies,
research networks and product developers. Here I am listening to all the
technical jargon. They are all talking about clinical trials and phases of
research. However, many panelists were also discussing disappointment about
PrEP(Pre Exposure prophylaxis) uptake results, as many young women were reported not to have embraced PrEP.

I am thinking in my mind, did they even ask
us young women what we wanted before they developed the product? I was saying:

‘Hey product developer, you are not a young
woman. Young women want choice. The feeling we have when we know we can protect
ourselves gives us power and confidence. We want to pick an HIV prevention tool
from a variety without being judged. We young women love experiencing new
things, we want fun and exciting things. We want systemic and non-systemic
options. Imagine carrying a bottle of pills around and everyone waiting for an
explanation. We have different opinions on what works and what does not work
for us.

If you come up with new products, make sure
they smell nice, make them attractive and don’t forget the potentially
expensive cost of these products. Young women are a diverse group, one product
cannot satisfy and be user friendly to all of them. We want the pill, the ring,
implants, injection and those new products we don’t know about.

As you roll out the HIV prevention products
take into consideration the issue of youth-friendly services. It is not a
matter of just trying to be smiling when I visit the clinic. Sometimes the
sentiment “young at heart” should be dismissed. How can I talk about my sex
life to an old nurse, looking at me from the top of their spectacles trying to fake
a smile? The golden question is where is the 25 year old nurse? Youth-friendly
services provided by the youthful service providers are better for us.’

#FortheYouthWiththeYouthBytheYouth  #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs


HIV VULNERABILITY AMONG ADOLESCENT GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN IN HOMA BAY COUNTY, KENYA

By Belianne
Onyango

I am a young woman from Homa Bay county in Kenya, and a
social worker professionally. I am also very passionate about fellow young women and
adolescents, especially their well-being and health. Previously, I volunteered with
Women Fighting AIDs in Kenya (WOFAK) to enlighten fellow young women on issues
around HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Currently, I also partner
with the ATHENA Initiative, previously as an ambassador in the LEARN project and
currently as a champion in the #WhatGirlsWant project. Through this, I am serving my community by
providing community outreaches on issues of SRHR, HIV prevention, PrEP,
elimination of violence against women, menstrual health and other topics
impacting the health and rights of adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in
Homa Bay county, Kenya.

According to national
statistics in Kenya, my county Homa Bay is still the leading county in HIV prevalence in
Kenya, with the most affected being young people, including Adolescent girls and young women(AGYW).  This made
me more curious to know why  AGYW are most negatively affected by issues
pertaining to health whenever a survey is carried out.

As I was probing a few young women and adolescent girls to
know more about why it’s always the AGYW with the highest HIV prevalence rate,
a number of factors were identified as contributing to this problem, which
included:

Gender
based violence
at a household level, it is often that the heads of the family are men. In many occasions in rural homes, it is the men who are breadwinners
and who make the final decision on what is to happen in the homes.
This tends to place women in an inferior position. Often, girls born out of
wedlock or orphans are being violated sexually by the people taking care of
them. These girls do not have power of proposing to someone they call a father
or guardian to go for HIV test first or use protection but the end results can
be predicted.

Life
style.
  Adolescent girls and young women have sexual relations with older men( transactional sex). This is mainly for the men to provide
them with things they may wish to have in their life without considering their
HIV status.

Lack of
parental support.
Parents have failed to discuss issues around sexuality with
their daughters. This has made AGYW rely on the information they get from their
peers who at times not experienced enough to advise or guide on issues around
health. This can lead to them being misinformation and lack of accurate information

In order to solve these issues driving high HIV prevalence
rates, girls’ empowerment is still needed at grass root level so that they can
be able to condemn and speak out for themselves. AGYW need to have access to
support whenever someone is trying to harass them sexually or trying to violate
their rights in a manner that may make them contact HIV.  AGYW should not only  have a number of options in HIV prevention, but
also know about each one of them so that should they have a challenge in using
or maintaining one, they  can go for another
option they feel comfortable using e.g. condom use, PrEP(Pre Exposure prophylaxis) or Daprivirine ring. Some
AGYW engage in sexual intercourse willingly but they can’t choose from what they
don’t know or have never heard about. Finally, parents should always be open
with their daughters and give proper advice as far as HIV is concerned to
reduce new HIV infections in the region.


Redefining the norm and challenging the status quo: Young women rearranging the discussion table

Blog by Maximina Jokonya

“The voices of young women matter. Any HIV
prevention conference and other decision making platform has a duty and an
obligation to ensure our presence, our inclusion and our leadership”, said
Audrey Nosenga, a young woman who was attending the HIV R4P conference as part
of the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative by ATHENA.

According to,  an estimated 740,000 women were living with
HIV in Zimbabwe in 2017. Among young women, HIV prevalence increases with age,
with 2.7% of women aged 15-17 living with HIV, increasing to 13.9% of women age
23-24.  This data shows why it is
important that we  involve young women
and make sure that their voices, views and priorities are included and their
needs centered. Young women should have access to spaces and opportunities to share
their stories and priorities  on how they
think the world can end HIV.

As young women, our main ask is for those who
are involved in HIV programming and implementation, including researchers, to
see the importance of our presence at the discussion table. During the HIV R4P
conference, we heard a lot about young women but too little from young women.
It is of paramount importance to include the faces behind the statistics,
graphs and colorful pie charts. If we are to reach the 90/90/90 targets and
the goal of ending AIDS by 2030, we need to create spaces for young women.

During the HIV R4P conference, the Young Women’s
Leadership Initiative took over the Advocates’ Corner to make our voices heard
to the researchers, policy and decision makers of the conference. We did this
through raising the Visible Panty Line, which symbolises the things that we as
women are told to keep hidden, to be quiet about and to be ashamed of. The
hotel which was chosen to host this HIV prevention conference forced us to take
the panty line down; telling us that our advocacy was offensive. Therefore, we
are saying: if young women’s voices are not heard and their views prioritised,
then for whom are we coming up with these great innovations, studies and HIV
programming?

All we are saying is, we don’t want any high
position, nor are interested in a seat at the table, what we want is to
redefine the norm and challenge the status quo. We want to change the same
cloth and utensils we have been seeing on the table with new and more choices
that are meant for us. When we are planning for conferences, let’s have spaces
for young women to share their ideas, opportunities to speak on panels,
sessions and poster presentations. It is now the time to move away from the data
or statistics-centered conference approach to a more conversational, human
centered approach!  The voices and
experiences and leadership of young women is necessary if we are to end this
epidemic and fulfill the rights, choices and agency of everyone living with or
vulnerable to acquiring HIV.