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 What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?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