As a young woman, I worry about my future and so do my peers. Being part of an amazing team that explored and scrutinized the UNAIDS policy guidelines was an interesting and informative opportunity. The health and well-being of young women and girls has been a topic of discussion for a long time, hence why the personal is political. Autonomy over our own bodies has been questioned more than once. Access to tools that may guarantee our health and control has been a topic no one wants to speak out about for years.
Policy makers have always known what women need, but now it is time for us to speak out openly about #WhatWomenWant. UNAIDS’ policy guidelines address some of the societal challenges young women and girls face across the globe; one girl’s story is embedded in the lives of a million others. Prevention for young women and girls will only be possible if we embrace comprehensive sexuality education and allow ourselves to open our eyes to the realities in our communities. When young women and girls are equipped with knowledge and skills, they can make safer and healthier choices. A comprehensive package that is tailor-made for the ever-evolving group of young women and adolescent girls is one of the many ways we can achieve prevention for all. It takes coordination and collaboration to drive change.
As a working group member, I’ve been touched by the amazing views young women and girls share. Hearing them state their needs clearly shows me that we have been invited to the table, but so often have not shared in the decision making. We have so much potential, energy and many ideas; an untapped resource that can be of great use in deciding health policies over our own bodies. We acknowledge the gains but we still can do more - until we ensure equitable access to comprehensive health services and education, until we can exercise our rights, all of our gains may slowly be forgotten.
HIV prevention is everyone’s responsibility. #WhatWomenWant is to keep girls in school, and ensure they stay in school. We want to promote menstrual health and access to SRH services. We need innovative ways of empowering young women and girls. We need to ensure young women and girls can afford to be safe, healthy, well and that they can truly take charge of their future. We need progressive policies on health and systems that support emancipation of young women and girls. We need to stop making excuses when it comes to health. We can make no compromises on quality of life.