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Melissa Fairey, Canada

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?

The current gap in the HIV response for women and girls is education. One of the growing populations being infected by HIV/AIDS in Canadian regions are girls aged 13-19. A key barrier is a lack of education and awareness on safe sex practices. Another key barrier is the rates of infection in lower income and rural areas. This demonstrates that HIV awareness and overall sexual health comprehension is affected by socioeconomic barriers and poverty disproportionately.

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community or setting to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?

Gender based violence is a continual systemic issue. It has less to do with the laws but that laws are implemented and enforced without influence from patriarchal and misogynist roots. An example of this can be seen in the recent Jian Ghomeshi case in Toronto, Canada. Jian, a popular radio host, was found not guilty on multiple sex assault charges despite having numerous high profile witnesses and evidence. In a Statistics Canada survey of victimization in 2013 472,000 women reported a sexual assault, with only 1,610 guilty verdicts in a court of law. This is an unacceptable statistic that demonstrates the ways in which laws are failing women in Canada. In order to protect the rights of women and girls in diversity there must be strengthened enforcement of laws and a changed narrative of believing the experiences of women. 

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

Young women can be supported first and foremost through education and opportunity. This includes providing young women the opportunities to take on positions of leadership within communities and decision making processes. This means an equal seat at the table with power and autonomy over their own bodies, sexual health and education. If young women are provided education and access to information their potential is infinite. I often think to the phrase “Educate a girl, empower a nation” to break structural barriers and to implement equality and perhaps most importantly, equity. 

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response?

We need a feminist response that addresses the inter-sectionality of HIV issues. A feminist response is integral terms of prevention and education in response to the spread of HIV that is happening all over the globe. The intersection between HIV, gender based violence, sexual assault and poverty can only be addressed through a feminist based response with equality and empowerment at the forefront. 

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 want to see action plans and concrete solutions come out of the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016 in June. So often high level meetings and conferences bring together dialogue and talk, which is important. However, what is needed is true collaboration and action plans - including task forces and working groups that do meaningful work with feminist organizations at a community level. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals can only be successful if there is true investment at a grassroots level. 

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