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#WhatWomenWant

Ntlotleng Mabena, South Africa

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in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?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


Chelsie France, Guyana

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

A major current gap in the HIV response for women would be the lack of psycho social support. It is of the view that it is vital that women have access to proper psychosocial support since often times they end up being single mothers who, sometimes would’ve been vulnerable to the mother to child transmission of HIV. In addition, stigma and discrimination continues to create a gap for women and girls to access HIV services. In Guyana, patriarchy (male domination), and lack of skilled human resources become major barriers for women and girls to access HIV/SRHR services. 

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in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms and what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?

To combat the issue of Gender Based Violence, strategies such as sensitization through panel discussions, community outreaches and GBV screening when offering counseling services have been deemed effective. Also, through the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s youth program, young people particularly young girls become aware and are better able to protect themselves. Laws that seek to protect women and girls have to be enforced and implemented.   

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

Young women should first be supported by their families particularly their male counterparts, through such they’ll be able to make independent decisions with freedom knowing that they’re supported by their male figures. In addition, young women can be supported by all communities NGOs, FBOs by providing the resources necessary to push the gender equality agenda. Moreover, governments should be open enough to be a part of the conversation. 

4. Why do we need an HIV feminist response? 

In order to experience the much needed change, a radical response is needed. It is important that women’s SRH issues be addressed since women are the ones who’re more vulnerable. HIV can be contracted more easily by the woman than the man. Often times women’s views and needs of sexual and reproductive health turn on deaf ears. Therefore, a strong holistic approach is necessary. 

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

Just recently, in Guyana, the Minister of Public Health disclosed that there are approximately 8000 people infected with HIV and that there are 500 new cases. It is with hope that there will be a more robust approach to eliminate HIV/AIDS all together and for much emphasis to be placed on the role of young people in combating HIV and protecting themselves. Also, what approach and how the issue of gender equality and equal access to SRH services will be addressed/ executed.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at: http://ruralreporters.com/young-feminists-blog-series-on-whatwomenwant-featuring-chelsie-france/ | Rural Reporters


Zemdena Abebe, Ethiopia

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 and AIDS response is completely out of the touch with the reality of the group. The approaches are elitist and the terminology used in various campaigns and advocacy work is full of ‘big words’ that have no meaning whatsoever in the public landscape. The other barrier is the very sexist anti-women or misogynistic approach towards women living with HIV. Women are expected not to be sexual - that is having sex for the very purpose of pleasure. In most cases, they do not have a say in how, where and when secular intercourse takes place. Women are prone to HIV because they are exposed to various forms of sexual abuse. The other major factor is that women access HIV/SRHR infomation from men. For example, I know a lot of women who didn’t know they could contract HIV if the man pulls out before an orgasm, because that’s what the men they were sleeping with told them. Perhaps the men in these relationships know that women are more exposed to contracting HIV than men so they manipulate the women. The other gap is the information given to women is not detailed and is usually focused on shaming and blaming women. For instance in a shy and very conservative society like Ethiopia, it’s unlikely that women are told that they could contract HIV through anal sex and the response to HIV has generally channelled a very reductionist narrative. Women with HIV became dehumanized and minimized to a disease. The enablers could be the various indicators that community movements have achieved.

 2. What effective strategies have worked in your community to prevents 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?  

The strategies that are working are the constant community engagement, various online and offline discussions and education. In particular, grassroots community movements, various publications and activism have been able to frame some of women’s concerns in a meaningful manner. The most important thing lies in acquiring power. We need African intersectional feminist in various spaces be it in the civic, public and entrepreneurial domain. There needs to be a shift in a community oriented government as opposed to an office caricature.

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

First and foremost, there needs to an absolute shift in the society’s mind-set and the social conditioning that is as a result of years of brainwash. Breaking structural barriers makes the world a better place for all of us who inhabit it. I strongly believe that it’s women that can change the years and years of injustices that women face. It is through sisterhood and unity of womanhood that structures of oppression can ultimately be dismantled. We should not expect those who oppress and befit from our oppression to be the major players in our liberation. The most important thing to do to support young women is to give them the space and resources to be their best selves; infact to protect the rights of young women is to afford them a way to make make the progress towards gender freedom.

 4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

Feminism is a movement that works to end sexist injustice and oppression. HIV is a disease that affects women more than men because of the very patriarchal sexual relationships - moreover the response to HIV has a huge classist and sexist approach. Any attempt to effectively respond to HIV should obviously centre on women’s safety and needs. An intersectional feminist response to HIV will save the lives of many women.

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 hope it will not be another meeting whereby people will mingle, travel, dine and wine. First and foremost I hope the meeting is not one of the usual meetings whereby the usual elite meet and say a bunch of big words. I hope it includes the women affected by HIV and help them channel their voices, concerns and ways forward. My expectation is for it to be as inclusive as possible and a meeting that holds itself accountable on the goals it set out to achieve.

#WhatWomenWant is to be included in the various process set out bring about change.

#WhatWomenWant is not a bunch of suit wearing, high level performers.

#WhatWomenWant is to be seen as human first and foremost!

#WhatWomenWant is to claim their space without the fear of being killed.

#WhatWomenWant is to be independent.

#WhatWomenWant is to own our bodies.

#WhatWomenWant is to stop crying.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at http://www.iamgoal5.org/blog/2016/6/7/qqz0y0bzv0c509sqp40dlobv7zv4nk


Katherine Wynne, 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? 

One of the most crippling blockades in the HIV response for women and girls is the ever-present scientific data gap. The Global South in particular is fraught with omissions in data collection that starts at the birth of young girls and ripples across their lifetimes. According to the Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sarah Hendricks, “when we don’t count women or girls, they literally become invisible.” Failing to register births can block access to healthcare and other essential services for mother and children, skew measurements of policy efficacy, and inhibit outreach initiatives. To address this issue, data collection agencies (governmental or otherwise) and the scientific community must be educated on the importance of gender-equitable data collection. 

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 prevent and address GBV and to protect the rights of women and girls in all our diversity? 

The elimination of GBV in all its forms must be a battle fought by men as well as women. The involvement of men and boys is crucial if we are to overhaul the societal norms and practices that have allowed GBV to proliferate in the past. The movement must therefore be cultural, as well as legislative, if we are to truly end abuses against women. A heavy emphasis must be placed on educating young boys on the importance of gender equality. Coupled with the proactive measure of educating men against GBV, there must be a robust reactive mechanism in place so that victims of GBV may seek legal recourse. 

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

Societies must grow in such a way that women are afforded the same opportunities as men. These opportunities must be supported socially and protected legally. In order for women to break the structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality, young women need equal access to: education, technology, healthcare, leadership, and finances. These initiatives must be actively undertaken across sectors – both public and private – in order to ensure that advancements towards gender equality are achieved and sustained. In order for this to be achieved, young women must play an active role in policymaking. Multilateral forums such as the Commission on the Status of Women are beginning to involve youth, but national governments must take robust efforts to hear the youth voice, seat youth at the decision-making table, and address their demands for gender equality.  

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response? 

Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Around 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Each year, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. In many regions, women who have been sexually abused by their partners are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV compared to women who have not experienced partner violence. The response to HIV is therefore not merely a medical one, but a social one. Communities must curtail the staggering presence of GBV in order to begin to address the cessation of HIV among women. 

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 the adoption of the SDGs?

 Of all the outcomes the global community is seeking to achieve out of the upcoming High Level Meetings on AIDS 2016, the most essential is the collective agreement on the need to educate men – young and old – against GBV. Beyond this, affirmative steps must be outlined so that a concrete system for this education may be implemented in local communities worldwide.

Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at: http://ruralreporters.com/young-feminists-blog-series-on-whatwomenwant-2/ | Rural Reporters


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