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?
Although we have made great strides in treatment of HIV, as evidenced by fewer AIDS-related deaths, we are yet to make similar strides in the field of prevention of new infections. We are still seeing significant new infections amongst adolescent girls and young women. We need to honestly interrogate the factors that put women and girls at high risk, and afford enough resources in mitigating these factors. The key, is to involve women and girls in researching these factors and in finding possible solutions. We still have many cultural and social practices that place women in submissive roles making it very hard for women and girls to be able to negotiate their safety. If governments are serious about women empowerment, and in reducing the burden of infections amongst women, we need them to really be bold, and pass radical policies that place a power in the hands of women. This will mean that they remove power from the hands of men. Lip service on empowerment has not gotten us anywhere.
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in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?
There has been some activity that attempts to address the high levels of GBV in communities, although most initiatives are driven by civil society organizations. There has been a lot of programs that target men, as perpetrators of GBV. These programs engage men at community levels, and forces men to look at how they use their power, and how they view women. Although these have not necessarily translated into large scale behaviour change, it is a key area of intervention. We need men, to take responsibility for their actions and see the consequences of misogyny in their communities. But while we work with men, we should never stop working with women, especially those who find themselves as victims of GBV. We need to strengthen the public services available for victims of rape and abuse, and continue to make these services accessible to all women. We have women and girls who do not have access to adequate post rape care, and access to safe judicial services.
3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?
We need policies that place more power in the hands of women and girls. We cannot continue to have decisions on sexual and reproductive health and rights be made by people who are far from those situations. Women should and must have the power to decide about their own sexual health and reproductive health. Too often we see women been given censored choices. For instance, in my country, South Africa, abortion, under certain conditions, is legal, yet, thousands of women do not have access to safe, legal public abortion services. Many still resort to unsafe abortions, risking their lives, because there are no public abortion services offered in some areas. We say women have a choice to choose safe abortion services, but in actual fact, they have no choice because there are no facilities that offer the service in her community.
4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response?
I believe that we need a feminist public health response in general. Too many women fall victim to an unresponsive public health system, mostly because women do not set their own health agendas. When women begin to set their own health priorities, and also begin to find their own solutions to the health problems they face, we will begin to have women be part of their own solutions, and not just objects without an input.
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 would like to see resolutions that place women at the centre of their discussions, resolutions lead by women, that are for women. Before they become technical, and start arguing from positions of power, they should first pause and think how their input affects the most vulnerable, most deserted women back in their own communities. I really hope the discussions at HLM will move us forward as women, and will not be filled with bureaucratic lip service.
Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at http://femnet.co/2016/06/07/4073/