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in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV; and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?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


Génesis Luigi, Venezuela

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? 

I can see two major barriers in Latin America, the first one is cultural: the stigma related to HIV -and STIs in general-, women are afraid to get tested because they don’t think it’s necessary, because they don’t trust in health service providers confidentiality, or they believe that HIV can be equal to a “death sentence”, a ban for having a sex life or even to be able to get jobs since some companies ask for an HIV test as part of the recruitment process. The other major barrier is related to access in both prevention and treatment, most education-based programs can reach certain groups such as girls and young women within the education system, but there’re women living in rural areas, sex workers, queer women, women with disabilities and indigenous women that can’t have access to the information they need. Also, for an efficient prevention a reliable access to condoms is key, some women have to travel long distances to access contraception, the same happens for treatment, if it’s not available and accessible this certainly has a negative impact on adherence.  

2. What effective strategies that 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? 

A diverse range of strategies have been implemented: from community-based programs where sensitization is crucial to identify and challenge identify gender based violence within communities, schools and family, to advocacy for implementations of laws that can revindicate women and their right to live a life free of violence. One of the most interesting approaches is to work directly with boys and young men challenging negative what masculinities. Most importantly it gets to discuss from a critical point of view of what traditional gender norms imply and how they can be harmful for everyone. To reach parents with comprehensive sexuality education can be useful too since they are the role model figures for children and adolescents. 

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

We are facing a difficult reality that can be translated into little access to an effective activism. Support can come from several actors, at school, teachers can encourage girls to get involved in leadership roles; in the non-profit organizations sector we have to raise the voices of women that are leading grassroots initiatives, give them a space to promote their causes and proposals including funding their initiatives. Actors involved in funding and financing have to look at women -women in all their diversity, not only white and middle class women) as game changers and others just as program beneficiaries. To face structural barriers we need women with a feminist perspective in decision making positions at all levels, from NGOs to government. 

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response? 

To meet the needs of girls and young women, since they are one the most affected groups by HIV. We need a response that can address gender inequalities as a major barrier, and can involve women and girls in all their diversity. A feminist response implies that we are aware of the structural causes of HIV transmission, it puts on the table the intersections and the risk of contracting HIV, it’s not the same to experience risk as a black woman, or indigenous, or a woman with disabilities, the same for access to prevention and treatment. The HIV response movement should not be afraid to identify as feminist.  

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 diverse range of representatives from civil society that can address the challenges we have towards the implementation of concrete plans of actions. I would like to see the HIV response as a transversal axis in the SDG, we can’t ensure healthy lives and well-being if people don’t have access to treatment, if people are discriminated because of their HIV status they can’t get access to decent jobs and therefore, can’t participate in economic growth for communities. I want to see discussion about goals indicators and how governments and civil society can establish partnership. Accountability matters too in this meeting since a great part of the HIV response relies on Health Ministries.

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-genesis-luigi/ | Rural Reporters


Nyasha Sithole, Zimbabwe

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?

Participation of adolescent girls and young women as project deliverers is the gap in the HIV response. There is also a gap in terms of consistency and representation of girls and women who are advocates on HIV. This affects the trends of advocacy and it is hard to track the results of advocacy work done. A barrier to accessing HIV and SRH information is due to lack of girls and women friendly services and lack of adequate information on the availability of 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?

Capacity building women and girls with adequate information, knowledge and skills to be advocates and champions against GBV has worked in my community. In most cases GBV is perpetrated due to lack of understanding and management of unequal power and gender relations between men and women in societies. Empowering women and men in societies to respect and manage power and gender relations is effective in dealing with prevention of GBV. 

3. Why do we need a feminist HIV response? 

HIV has been given  and consequently adopted the face of women and girls, women are seen as vectors of transmission, women carry the burden of care, women lack knowledge on HIV and other aspects of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and women are more vulnerable to infections because of their biological formation, social and economic status in society. Therefore in the HIV response it is very important to have the voice feminists and apply a feminist angle towards the  HIV response. 

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

One major structural barrier is an issue of economic resources, for young women to engage in processes be it conferences, meetings etc we need resources. Secondly we also need capacity building it’s not enough to be given the space and resources to do something without capacity building for example if i am nominated to represent at a meeting who is there to mentor and support me to ensure that I deliver? 

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?

Resources is a word that is important  in achieving desired outcomes in the HIV response as well as the SDGs. Inadequate funding has hindered women from actively participating in initiatives on HIV . These initiatives vary from Conferences, High Level Meetings, advocacy platforms, and programming. Therefore there is need to mobilize resources to strengthen engagement of women and girls in the HIV response.

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-nyasha-sithole/ | Rural Reporters


Marinella Matejcic, Croatia

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? 

Data for our local level shows that in a ten-year period, there have been around 50 registered cases a year of those infected by HIV and that Croatia is among the countries with the very low prevalence of HIV infection. On the other hand, access to SRHR services for women and girls is a subject of privilege. While in the capital and bigger cities women and girls can access some of the SRHR services, it is a fact that women in rural communities are not always in a position to make informed choices and access their sexual and reproductive health. Women face stigma, the conscientious objection is not regulated and that leaves a lot of space for harmful practices such as, illegal abortions after-hours and altering the data for national statistics. Thus, the national data on the subject is not reliable. 

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? 

CSOs are working hard on prevention of GBV, using innovative media strategies, workshops, and promotion of peer-to-peer education. Croatian Government did not ratify the Istanbul Convention. The Convention would put more emphasis on prevention and fight against the GBV. Croatian legal framework does not recognize all aspects of the problem and in the part where the framework isn’t written poorly, social services and the police are not implementing it well. Even after going to the safe houses, women are faced with a number of problems, including paperwork and everyday life situations that emerge from the fact that in most cases, the despot continue to enjoy their real-estate and belongings, while the woman and the children (if there are any) are the ones who have to seek refuge. The courts, in most cases, are not sensitized about this delicate situation, and that puts women through more suffering. 

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

If you do not know that you have a problem, you will not try to solve it. We need to teach women about their fundamental rights: we need to teach girls that they are not born into patriarchy just to adopt it: they have to fight it! It’s necessary to teach young girls, as soon as possible, what their endless possibilities are: we have to teach them that they have endless possibilities. Not just to finish school, get married and bear children. That should be a choice, not a coercion. Women have to form safe spaces and work intersectionally on mapping the problems and work on solving them from above, by collaborating with the handful of politicians that get the problem, but also from the bottom line; making pressure on the public and the law-maker realize the full potential that is hidden inside the half of the world. 

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV response? 

We need a feminist response to HIV infection because there is no feminism if we do not talk intersectionality; if we do not talk about transgender women; if we leave the lesbian and bisexual community out of it. Fighting HIV is fighting against patriarchy, against the fact that society in which we are living in finds it acceptable to leave girls and women behind because they special needs in terms of SRHR. By teaching women and girls and some marginalized groups about sexual and reproductive health and rights, we are giving them the tools to create their own destiny. There is no progress if women cannot control their bodies. It’s applicable to fighting HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies.   

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 consider myself an activist and thus have divided feeling about treaty bodies and international organizations that produce them. Sure, SDGs could make a nice path for progress – but we still have to work “on the ground” because most of the governments do not take the conclusions seriously. But on the other hand, if we do have the UN Women and the CSW and the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, it is wise to use them and their documents properly and wisely. It would be wonderful if the conclusions of the meeting would actually be implemented on the local level, and not just signed and put in the tray.

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-marinella-matejcic/ | Rural Reporters

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