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community or setting to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?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 https://iamgoal5.squarespace.com/blog/2016/6/2/young-feminists-blog-series-on-whatwomenwant


Marisol Ruiz Celorio, Mexico

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 HIV response needs to reach a wider number of women and girls and increase access to both HIV and SRH services as well as optimize existing healthcare infrastructure in settings where resources are scarce; above all, I believe it is fundamental to work on the reduction of stigma surrounding HIV and increase the availability and accessibility of comprehensive SRH services for women and girls living with HIV that are youth friendly, confidential and free of stigma. 

2. What effective strategies 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?  

In Mexico more than 900,000 women and girls have been killed violently from 2010 to 2016. This places my country, along with 9 other Latin American countries, among the 25 countries with the highest rate of femicides. We have had several campaigns launched by the federal government addressing gender based violence that provide hotlines with medical and psychological help but ultimately, I do believe that the only way to tackle GBV is to address gender stereotypes and challenge gender roles, which is the only real way to tackle the machismo culture that permeates this country and enables men to feel that they “own” women, and women’s bodies.

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

I believe that young women can be supported by allowing them to participate in spaces that are traditionally dominated by older men, and older women. If we get our message out to a wider audience we can probably start making progress towards gender equality, we also need to work with our governments to try to influence the education system in our country and teach kids of all ages about gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes within the educational curricula.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response?

I believe that all responses related to public health issues should implement from an intersectional feminist approach. When talking about an HIV response this is particularly important because we need to place at the front and center the rights of those living with HIV, specially their right to pleasure, to stigma-free services and to user friendly information. The feminist HIV response would also recognize that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity, and that race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity are all elements that impact the ways in which individuals living with HIV have to deal with and navigate through their HIV status.

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 a real commitment from the governments in response to the goal that they’ve set on eliminating stigma and discrimination, eliminating gender inequality and the increase of access to treatment without any kind of discrimination. More importantly I would like governments to address the goals that they have set with a sex-positive approach, recognizing that individuals living with HIV have the right to a pleasurable and healthy sex life. The recognition of sexual rights within the context of the SDGs in this High Level meeting should be one of the main outcomes.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at http://www.iamgoal5.org/blog/2016/6/3/ti3rvx1c5ofmifh3gm9aye44d9whav


Lucia Berro Pizzarossa, Uruguay

1. What are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services?

Gaps in the HIV response stem from the lack of engagement with the multiple underlying determinants for women’s, children and adolescents health. We cannot shy away from addressing poverty, structural gender inequality and distribution of power if we want to tackle the gaps. We need to acknowledge the fact that improving health requires actions well outside the health sector, through a multi-sectoral approach. Health programs that perpetuate these gaps and fail to incorporate an intersectional analysis that considers the diversity of experiences women face are not likely to achieve the desired results. This is an important and much needed advance in ensuring that we recognize and measure the correlation between health and the experiences of people in different areas of their lives. These correlations are complex, intersecting and vast, but absolutely essential to bridge the gaps.

2. What effective strategies 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?

While it is true that the public health crises triggered by the Zika virus or the refugee crisis—among others—pose new challenges to the enjoyment of Human Rights and demand rapid responses, it is also giving us the opportunity to re-imagine new ways to uphold these human rights and redesign our plans to meet their specific needs. We need to make sure that our responses to these challenges are not just emergency responses, but are also radical—tackling the root causes of these issues and addressing them in an integral manner. I believe there is no better way to do this than working on strategies that are grounded on human rights and have women, girls and adolescents at its center; strategies that take into account more than the cost-benefit of the policies or that have women as vehicles for economic growth.

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

Young women need to remind themselves that we are absolutely powerful. We are much more than a “vulnerable group” but to be effective we need to access information and education. I believe that young women need to advocate for an HIV response that guarantees the effective enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights. For that we need education, including comprehensive sexuality education. Educating young women benefits us all: it is a goal in itself and contributes substantially to the achievement of the development agenda. Moreover, quality education means much more than just reading and writing. A critical aspect of supporting young women to break barriers is to educate making sure that we are aware of our rights and are able to make our own decisions about our bodies, our health, and our relationships.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response?

We need a feminist response because feminism challenges the things we take for granted. Feminism not only looks for answers for the questions, but it’s redefining the way we ask those questions. This response will incorporate the unavoidable gender-specifics concerns: from our ability to negotiate sex—and even more safe sex—to the enabling social, political and economic environments that disproportionately affect women and girls.

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 SDG’s?

We need the international community and the national governments to ensure meaningful participation. We need to have women; children and adolescents directly involved in the decision-making process and ensure that the process is transparent. I want to see strategies that address structural inequalities, from the global arena to our private lives. I would like to see a strategy that reflects and amplifies people voices, choices and control over their own bodies.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at http://www.iamgoal5.org/blog/2016/6/3/4wimortauzr9rlyoe5luf81kq6ggcs


Josephine Varghese, India

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 main barrier in accessing HIV/SRHR services in my community continues to be the taboo surrounding discussing sexual activity and sexual health, especially outside the context of marriage. The seemingly unbreakable link between ‘family pride’ and sexual ‘purity’ of its woman folk make it difficult for women and girls to discuss and access information and services related to sexual and reproductive health. Comprehensive sex education that is sex-positive and inclusive of gender and sexuality minorities is a necessity to bridge this gap. Social stigma and criminalization of sex work still act as barriers for this highly vulnerable group from accessing HIV and SRHR services. It is also important to mention the commendable efforts made by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and NGOs associated in drastically reducing the percentage of new incidences in India and providing access to treatment (ART- anti-retroviral treatment) and preventive measures.

2. What effective strategies 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?

While policies and legislative changes are necessary to curb the violation of fundamental human rights of women (right against violence, right to a life of dignity, right to bodily integrity), what seems lacking in my community is a revolutionary change in the patriarchal mindset of the common person- regardless of their gender. Patriarchy is overarching, and encompasses not only men, but all people. Ongoing critical self-introspection of actions, perspectives and values we take for granted is essential to do away with oppressive patriarchy.

A great deal of awareness around violence against women was created during the popular protests in the wake of the Delhi gang rape a few years ago. Yet it seems like the majority of the protests focused on punishment rather than socio-economic change that would prevent GBV. The delay in completion of trials along with falling conviction rates seen in rape cases stand as testimony to the fact that reforms in the judiciary are long overdue. A revision of colonial-era laws in the global south is also called for. It is to be remembered that these laws were formulated in a hetero-normative and patriarchal western context that was alien to cultural and historical contexts of the colonized cultures. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes any sexual activity outside penile-vaginal intercourse is an example for this. Another area that needs urgent reform is marital rape, which is still not criminalized in India.  

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

Access to education and fundamental services is the first step in this direction. In India, the ‘right to education act’ along with supportive schemes for education of girl children are steps in the right direction. In schools, the curriculum needs to be revised from a feminist perspective to do away with patriarchal values that invisibly seep through the stories and lessons children learn from an early age. For these aims to be realized, advocacy at all levels is essential. Civil society movements that use the power and reach of channels available to them (for instance, in today’s world, social media) to press society & governments for change is what brought us thus far. These movements need to be strengthened and continued.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response?

Any comprehensive and effective HIV response needs to question patriarchal, hetero-normative values and norms. It has to:

  • Be sensitive and supportive of the needs and rights of gender and sexual minorities
  • Fight against oppressive patriarchal norms such as slut shaming, taboo against premarital sexual activity and the over-emphasis on female virginity, enabling girls and women to discuss sexuality more openly.
  • Support rights of sex workers and marginalized communities

Only an intersectional feminist response can meaningfully fulfill these fundamental conditions.

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?

My fundamental concern regarding the fight against AIDS is access. Sexual and reproductive health should be understood as a universal fundamental right and leaders of the world should resolve to provide it to the remotest of settlements and the most marginalized of communities. HIV test should be accessible to all, and ideally made part of routine tests at primary health centers.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at http://www.iamgoal5.org/blog/2016/6/5/young-feminists-blog-series-on-whatwomenwant


Annah Sango, Zimbabwe

In celebration of the #WhatWomenWant [campaign], launched by ATHENA working with UNAIDS. A dear friend and colleague inspired and challenged me to really think and write about what i would want, and wow it’s amazing how you might take almost an hour to think of what you would want as woman.

What do I want? Well, firstly i want good health and wellbeing, to be happy and healthy enough live life to my full potential. I want my sons to learn how to love and respect other people without prejudice.

I want to not be judged for the decisions and choices I make and I don’t want to feel bad about making me happy. I want peace of mind and I want liberation.

I  want reassurance and safety, equality and equity. An opportunity, a chance to live free of stigma, segregation, judgement, and coercion.

In a few words I want to be liberated in deed, speech and being!

See more at https://thembieannah.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/whatwomenwant/

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