#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?
I want to speak to transgender women (transwomen) as a marginalized group of women who continue to be a community of women disenfranchised from accessing general health care services, more importantly HIV/SRHR services in the African context. HIV service provision continues to be discriminatory towards transwomen which makes it difficult for them to access basic health care. More importantly discrimination by health care providers not only deters them from accessing HIV services but it as well blocks many who test HIV+ from being retained on treatment and care.
This speaks to the problematic service provider attitudes, that stems from a lack of understanding & lack of training on comprehensive sexual diversity and gender diversity. Providers reinforce their religious and cultural norms and values to perpetuate the discrimination & stigma at women who present atypical or having gender diverse expressions. Research continues to register a growth of the HIV incidence rate amongst transgender people in general, but more apparent amongst the transwomen.
2. What does the end of AIDS mean to you? What role can the women’s movement play to accelerate progress?
A pluralistic and inclusive women’s movement is a vital move towards ensuring that all diversity of women identities and expressions are represented when discussions, lobbying and advocacy around HIV and SRHR is advanced. The women’s movement continues to expose the multiple vulnerabilities of women to HIV, and doing this in an inclusive and plural manner ensures that women as the section of community that is most affected by HIV is targeted and addressed in a holistic sense which is the only way in which the end of AIDS can be achieved. It is important to ensure that no sub-communities or categories are left behind in the endeavor to end AIDS and advance SRHR for women as one member of society left out of HIV programming is an impediment to reaching this goal.
3. Why do we need a feminist HIV response?
Integrating a feminist approach to HIV programming enables programmers to efficiently remedy the socio-economic barriers that hinder access to HIV and SRHR services for all people for a holistic redress of the incidence and prevalence of HIV. Feminism allows us a lens that fully interrogates the multiple layers of vulnerability to HIV that are perpetuated by patriarchal structures in society; a feminist approach enables us to deconstruct gender and body policing that continues to deny women agency over their bodies and hinders access to services. A feminist approach offers the HIV discourse an opportunity to overcome social barriers that continue to deny LGBTIQA identifying persons access to HIV services. With a feminist approach the HIV discourse can tailor messaging in a manner that bridges the gap of access to HIV services by men which is perpetuated by gender stereotyping which define accessing health care as feminine. Feminism also creates linkages between socio-economic inequities to various social problems such as the inability to access general health care and HIV/SRHR services.
4. What is your top health priority for women and girls in the next 5 years as it relates to HIV?
It is important that HIV literacy be incorporated into school curricular early to equip girls with the knowledge on HIV prevention. This should be done in a comprehensive manner where parents of girls are re-socialized to ensure that girls do not continue to be left vulnerable to contracting HIV simply from a lack of knowledge and confidence to protect themselves. Society has for a long time stigmatized women’s sexuality as something that is shameful and not to be encouraged; which is how girls and young women have long been robbed of the agency to determine their safety when engaging in sexual activity which persists in womanhood. I am of the strong opinion that society needs to be assisted to revisit the subject of sex in its entirety, more importantly revisiting women’s sexuality in an empowering manner to ensure that girls and young women grow with the correct knowledge regarding their bodies and their vulnerability to HIV.
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 & girls. How can national governments practically translate these commitments into actions?
Governments need to make deliberate investments into social dialogues that address the position of women and girls in society. In particular articulating the harm caused by the status of women and girls as beings without sexual agency. Government investments need to go towards repositioning women in society with a clear intent to deconstruct social and gender normativity that places women at the helm of HIV. This can only be achieved if governments build strong relationships with various civil society actors not only in the HIV stream but across sectors. This will enable access to a wide audience in society to reconstruct and reposition the status of women in light of vulnerability of women particularly to HIV.
Thanks to our partner Catherine Nyambura for her support on this project. See more at http://ruralreporters.com/young-feminists-blog-series-on-whatwomenwant-4/