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Marinella Matejcic, Croatia

1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services? 

Data for our local level shows that in a ten-year period, there have been around 50 registered cases a year of those infected by HIV and that Croatia is among the countries with the very low prevalence of HIV infection. On the other hand, access to SRHR services for women and girls is a subject of privilege. While in the capital and bigger cities women and girls can access some of the SRHR services, it is a fact that women in rural communities are not always in a position to make informed choices and access their sexual and reproductive health. Women face stigma, the conscientious objection is not regulated and that leaves a lot of space for harmful practices such as, illegal abortions after-hours and altering the data for national statistics. Thus, the national data on the subject is not reliable. 

2. What effective strategies that have worked in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity? 

CSOs are working hard on prevention of GBV, using innovative media strategies, workshops, and promotion of peer-to-peer education. Croatian Government did not ratify the Istanbul Convention. The Convention would put more emphasis on prevention and fight against the GBV. Croatian legal framework does not recognize all aspects of the problem and in the part where the framework isn’t written poorly, social services and the police are not implementing it well. Even after going to the safe houses, women are faced with a number of problems, including paperwork and everyday life situations that emerge from the fact that in most cases, the despot continue to enjoy their real-estate and belongings, while the woman and the children (if there are any) are the ones who have to seek refuge. The courts, in most cases, are not sensitized about this delicate situation, and that puts women through more suffering. 

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

If you do not know that you have a problem, you will not try to solve it. We need to teach women about their fundamental rights: we need to teach girls that they are not born into patriarchy just to adopt it: they have to fight it! It’s necessary to teach young girls, as soon as possible, what their endless possibilities are: we have to teach them that they have endless possibilities. Not just to finish school, get married and bear children. That should be a choice, not a coercion. Women have to form safe spaces and work intersectionally on mapping the problems and work on solving them from above, by collaborating with the handful of politicians that get the problem, but also from the bottom line; making pressure on the public and the law-maker realize the full potential that is hidden inside the half of the world. 

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response? 

We need a feminist response to HIV infection because there is no feminism if we do not talk intersectionality; if we do not talk about transgender women; if we leave the lesbian and bisexual community out of it. Fighting HIV is fighting against patriarchy, against the fact that society in which we are living in finds it acceptable to leave girls and women behind because they special needs in terms of SRHR. By teaching women and girls and some marginalized groups about sexual and reproductive health and rights, we are giving them the tools to create their own destiny. There is no progress if women cannot control their bodies. It’s applicable to fighting HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies.   

5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016, what is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting. Especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs?

I consider myself an activist and thus have divided feeling about treaty bodies and international organizations that produce them. Sure, SDGs could make a nice path for progress – but we still have to work “on the ground” because most of the governments do not take the conclusions seriously. But on the other hand, if we do have the UN Women and the CSW and the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, it is wise to use them and their documents properly and wisely. It would be wonderful if the conclusions of the meeting would actually be implemented on the local level, and not just signed and put in the tray.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at: | Rural Reporters