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Nsovo Xiluva, South Africa

#WhatWomenWant is a collaborative effort launched by the ATHENA Network and driven by young feminists and young women from around the world. The campaign has created space for activists and advocates across the women’s movement to amplify their voices, power their solutions and claim their agency. The #WhatWomenWant online campaign aims to inspire renewed leadership and drive momentum towards realizing the vision, priorities, and rights of women and girls in all of their diversity and to end HIV as a public health emergency. It provides a democratic platform and space to equalize all voices and catalyze cross-movement action towards what truly works for women and girls.

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

The gaps exist at international and country-specific policy levels. However, these gaps further get amplified at local implementation level. Being a young woman and/or an adolescent girl brings with it much unwarranted stigma so much that essential HIV/SRHR services are unavailable and if available still inaccessible. As a healthcare provider I have personally witnessed the stigmatization of sexual activity of girls. There is also a grey area between parents and healthcare workers in primary healthcare level to decide who is responsible for educating the girl child about sexuality and reproductive experiences in adolescence. The proposals to provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education in primary and secondary schools has not been implemented in many countries, and we can only wonder what this is doing to young girls. 

2. What does the end of AIDS mean to you? What role can the women’s movement play to accelerate progress? 

I wear multiple hats as a healthcare worker and an activist. As a healthcare provider HIV/AIDS to me means a chronic condition that is well manageable with good nutrition and adherence to treatment. As an activist HIV/AIDS to me is a disease that is more stigmatized than others and is often associated with promiscuity, and not many people want to talk about it. I am working to change that belief.Women can be drivers of change as they fall in the groups of people most affected by HIV/AIDS. Women’s movement would help to support women living with HIV to fight the stigma surrounding living with HIV and taking on HIV activism. The social exclusion and lack of consideration for women living with HIV is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Women should demand for the criminalization of active prejudice and dehumanization of people living with HIV at country level. Further, women should hold their governments accountable to providing for the healthcare needs of HIV/AIDS therapy regardless of their social status or affordability to such therapy.  

3. Why do we need a feminist HIV response? 

A feminist response will address the needs of women, who happen to have a higher infection rate. 

4. What is your top health priority for women and girls in the next 5 years as it relates to HIV?

 We have to eradicate the stigma associated with HIV through education and community mobilization. People infected with HIV should have that space that allows them to openly discuss their status without having the fear of discrimination. We need to move beyond having only activists disclosing their status to ensuring all people are able to get access to testing and treatment . The infection rate among to adolescent girls and young women needs to be reduced. It is unacceptable that in my country, South Africa, statistics show that nearly 2000 young women are infected with HIV every week. The new infections are mostly associated with transactional sexual activity, hence the inability for the young women to insist on using protection. This statistic is shocking and only points out how weak we are at economically empowering women.My primary focus is to change if not transform the economic prospects of women and young girls.

5. The 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, along with other global and regional policy instruments, have made bold pledges to achieve gender equality and address HIV for women and girls. How can national governments practically translate these commitments into actions? 

An active citizenry need to be the order of the day. We need to have civil society that will hold governments accountable to making action-oriented policies, and actually involving civil society in the drafting. Implementation will need to be through consultation. In addition, religious and cultural influences on policies need to done away with. We need to prioritize human rights over the rights and access obtained from privilege.

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