Girls must be central to the POST 2015 AGENDA

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Communications Officer. 

The health and status of women and girls are inextricably linked to the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and economies. Yet today, nearly 15 years on from the launch of the MDGs, progress on reproductive health lags seriously behind. Approximately 800 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these occur in developing countries. marcia

Additionally, over 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception. Investing in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls has never been more critical. The largest-ever cohort of young people is entering their reproductive years, and their access to sexual and reproductive health information and services will have enormous implications for the trajectories of their lives. Advancing the reproductive health of women and girls also pays enormous dividends for development – poverty rates go down, education rates go up and greater prosperity follows.

At the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, USA discussions and negotiations took place to shape the post-2015 development agenda. Hence, now is the time to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights is a priority in the post-2015 agenda. I think it is essential that we realise that when we talk about sexual reproductive health and rights we are talking about young women and girls.

As a young woman and youth advocate, I am committed to ensuring that young women and girls are central to the Post 2015 agenda. I say this as the Post 2015 agenda must address the most marginalised populations and as girls and young women are two of these key populations they need to be part of the decision making process. In order to do this young women and girls must be empowered and engaged in meaningful participation. Meaningful engagement of young women can be understood as a series of empowering moments that move in the direction of the ‘decision-making table.’ She can advise, share, sing or cry her opinions on political reforms, policies, programmes and development initiatives that directly affect her and will allow for effective use of resources, both human and natural.

In a world where ‘one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime,’ successful and sustainable change will require transformative leadership. This means leadership that will challenge and change the status quo and the systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination, inequality and denial of human dignity. In order for this to happen young women and girls need safe spaces to be themselves, share experiences, access information and discuss ‘taboo’ subjects without fear or judgement.

At the World YWCA (where I am lucky enough to work), we have developed a model of safe spaces which has emerged from our programming on sexual reproductive health and rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally there is a frightening unmet need for family planning and as the world’s population saws we must ask ourselves what are we doing to address this? Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, with girls under the age of 16 years of age facing four times the risk of maternal mortality than women over the age of 20. In Mexico 42% of young men and 26% of young women between 15 and 19 years have had a sexual relationship; only 47% of these young men and 15% of young women had used a condom during their first sexual intercourse. The HIV and AIDS rates are increasing in Eastern Europe. In Nepal 86% of married adolescents aged 15-19 are not using a modern contraceptives, every 4 hours one girl died from pregnancy relation complications. This is a global issue! The lack of adequate, accessible and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services not only affect the educational and economic opportunities of present and future generations, but threaten their very survival.

Young people, particularly young women, must be educated and empowered on their own sexual reproductive health and rights. Without access to non-judgmental, confidential and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information and services, young women remain vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Many young women are confronted with the consequences of early and forced marriage and child bearing.

If we are to achieve a world of peace, equality and justice, we must be accountable to the world’s 860 million young women. We are more than a statistic – we are a valuable asset to nations, a critical population group for achieving sustainable human development and our voices must count in shaping the future of humanity. It is essential gender equality is retained as a stand-alone goal and that gender is mainstreamed across all the targets.

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By Sonia Odek, YWCA of Kenya.
Every morning before we set off for the day we always have a meeting in one of the spacious rooms which also happened to be the apartment I AM IN. It is usually an opportunity for us as YWCA delegates and our leader Hendrica Okondo to get together and forge a way forward on what we are to do for the day. In these meetings we first start by one of us praysharing a bible verse and expand on it by reflecting on its relevance for today. Then someone with a song would also share and then we would pray together.

After prayer it is usually followed by each delegate sharing with the rest of the group what they had learnt and how it encouraged, inspired or even educated them, they would then tells us how that experience applied to their own countries and their own YWCA and how they would use that experience to make a difference. The morning devotion is also used to address issues that may have come up among the members as they went through their day. Is it the place where grievances and differences are solved. It is the place where highlights of the do’s and don’ts are clearly highlighted. We get to ask questions on different matters including those we consider silly. Here we remind ourselves of both of the really funny moments we had and the out rightly blond moments we had.

I particularly like these sessions since they set the tone for the rest of the day for me. It is the place where I have to constantly remind myself each morning that am not on a Holiday trip but am here to work and make a difference. I realise that in the midst of the joy and laughter that we share, there is also a lot that we learn. The week begins and how I hope to learn from my fellow peers at the morning devotions.

Opening 20th international AIDs 2014 Conference

By Dr. Victoria Nnensa, YWCA of Malawi.

With over 15,000 delegates from over 75 countries worldwide, the opening ceremony of the 20th international AIDS conference was a kaleidoscope of faith, love, unity and most of all hope.victoria

From the different accents to the colorful displays in the booths, the encouraging powerful stories to the sad moving stories, one could just not get enough. The opening started with a cold reminder of the fallen MH17, with a constant reminder now again by the different speakers. In each address, we were told of the great works of the delegates we had lost in the crash and their vision for the future. “We must end HIV/AIDS by 2030, VCT should reach everyone, everywhere, no one should be born with HIV, and people living with HIV should be treated with dignity and respect.” – Michele Sidibe, UNAIDS secretary general sharing Joep Lange vision, whose life was claimed by the crash.

Despite the obvious sadness that covered the room when the topic was brought up, and the cold weather, the speakers warmly welcomed the delegation to Melbourne and commonly stressed on the need to work together in the bid to combat HIV/AIDS.

One particular story, shared by an Indonesian girl living with HIV stressed the need to disseminate the right information to the public and the need to involve those living with HIV in the cause, policy making and decision making. She urged young women living with HIV to join the fight and take an active role.

Other speakers stressed the need of not leaving anyone behind especially the vulnerable minority groups of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual (LGBT), sex workers, prisoners, migrants and people with disability.

However enough was not stressed on the involvement of young women. Young women play a key role in advocating for sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV awareness as such it is important to empower them.

On an ending note, Michele Sidibe walked in with a banner, ‘AIDS WILL ONLY END WHEN…?’ what are your thoughts and suggestions.

Behind the Scenes : Socio-economic drivers of AIDS

By Zoya Patel, YWCA of Australia. Zoya recently attended the 20th International AIDs Conference, in Melborne, Australia

On the first full day of AIDS 2014, Marcie, Victoria and I made our way to one of the huge plenary theatres to hear from a group of leading researchers on the topic of ‘Behind the Scenes : Socio-economic drivers’.

We heard from five researchers about economic factors that impact on the vulnerability towards HIV infection amongst particular groups in South Africa, Malawi, Haiti, Greece and Australia.zoya

Franzeska Mienck started the session by outlining her research into the correlation between child abuse and lower social outcomes for children living in households affected by AIDS, and how those factors interact with poverty and disability. The study found that children from families with someone living with HIV are at a higher risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and that these factors were further exacerbated by poverty.

P. E. Stevens discussed the SAGE4Health pilot project that trialled methods of building economic resilience in local communities, to help reduce the impact of emergency situations on a family’s financial status, which can in turn lead to systemic poverty in community groups. People living in poverty have lower health outcomes as compared to the general population, and the programme by SAGE4Health was successful in terms of financial empowerment for the communities who participated.

Stevens’ findings correlated somewhat with Carmen Logie’s research from Haiti, which emphasised the impact of economic instability and poverty on the contraction of HIV, as people are more willing to take risks with their health through unprotected sex, or drug use when in situations of poverty and homelessness.

George Nikolopoulos shared his findings from Greece, where the rates of HIV contracted by injecting drug users rose significantly in correlation with what he labelled ‘Big Events’, such as massive economic and political crises.

Finally, Lance Feeney discussed the importance of reducing or eliminating ‘co-payments’ for Antiretroviral drugs (ARTs) in Australia, to reduce the economic impact of treatment on clients who may not be able to afford the medication.

From this session, it is clear that reducing rates of HIV is not limited to medical and scientific research only, but that broader social and economic policies impact on the contraction of HIV in communities already struggling with poverty.

When individuals are driven to unprotected transactional sex in return for food, or money their risk of contracting HIV is greatly enhanced. All of the researchers present emphasised the need for a holistic approach to ending the pandemic, with a joint focus on physical health, medical solutions, social outcomes and empowering people from lower socio-economic demographics to enhance their financial resilience.

We left the session with a strong sense of the impact of poverty on people living with HIV, and a renewed interest in building capacity and strength in communities to end poverty, and with it, reduce rates of HIV in communities that are most affected.

Stigma and Discrimination

By Krist Angela Zicishti, YWCA of Albania. Krist recently attended the 20th International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, Australia.

Krist Angela Zicishti and Kgothatso Mokoena

We are young and we are protecting our rights.

I had the opportunity to participate in the International AIDS Youth Pre-Conference and attended a session on stigma and discrimination.

What are the causes of stigma and discrimination? Why do so many people have to suffer?
One answer is Silence…If we are silent we will never achieve things. It’s from silence that every other bad thing comes. Another factor is lack of information and it is a slow killer. When we don’t learn about vital information we become uninformed and ignorant. This follows fear. Fear not only of stigma but self-discrimination too and low self-esteem.

Through the group discussion we identified 4 problems related to HIV/AIDS
1. Lack of knowledge,
2. Behaviour,
3. Poor healthcare and knowledge of sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR),
4. Social cultural norms.

Our smaller group choose to discuss social and cultural norms.
We were trying to find the reasons in our country that lead to stigma and discrimination.

In Pakistan one person said that it is a lot to do with generational gap for example you can’t even talk with your parents about SRHR. Another person shared that they felt that stigma and discrimination in Azerbaijan is related to religion as it is a Muslim country. It’s the tradition that comes to be dominating in a negative way. I shared that in Albania, stigma comes from people. People are prejudice towards others; it is the fault of the society. Gregory Gabbert, AIDS Alabama (USA) a fellow youth participant summed it up best when he said “Our human nature puts people in boxes and we label those boxes.” This I think is a sad truth!

Following this discussion we were asked to think about how we can change it! The discussion that followed was very positive and focused very much on changing minds and engaging in advocacy. Here are some of the things recommended as vehicles for change: social media, awareness campaigns, lobbying governments, empowering those who are stigmatised and at risk as marginalised groups.

We have to do as much as we can! Sonia Odek from the YWCA of Kenya represented our group and SHE DID GREAT! “There’s nothing for us without us” she said.

Faith Brings Women Together

By Sylvia John, YWCA of Papua New Guinea, was part of the World YWCA Delegation attending AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.

The YWCA of Papua New Guinea is a faith-based organisation working as part of the community response to HIV. The YWCA nurtures young women’s leadership in the community and brings women together. YWCA creates safe spaces for women to talk and act. In my community in Papua New Guinea, faith brings women together. Together we are guided by our collective spirituality.

I know God is looking after me and has a plan for me and my community. He gives me the strength to look after my peers. He is with me on my journey. There are some women living with HIV who don’t believe it, but we are all truly children of God. God is with us and is guiding us. He is looking after all of us no matter who you are. He has no judgement. I feel like I am working with God when there is no one beside me.

It is my heart’s desire to start a refuge in Port Moresby for positive women. During the AIDS2014 conference, I took another step in that journey and met with a representative from a global health program who will meet me in Port Morseby in three weeks time to talk about how we can progress this idea and make it a reality. I have been able to advocate for this project because of YWCA. YWCA will always be there to support women as leaders, creating safe spaces like my idea for a positive women’s refuge. It has supported me and now I can support other women.


Contextual Bible Study Seminar in Nigeria

By Sarah Samson Choji, YWCA of Nigeria

In our society today, young people constitute almost 40-45% of the overall population of our nation. With this large number, there’s a need to harness and invest in this group of able, energetic and lively people to bring about sustainable growth in our economy-through enlightenment and bringing to awareness vital issues that concerns them, especially in decisions they make in their life time. “Contextual Bible Study and everyday choices of a young person” was the theme for this one day seminar which was sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) which seeks to improve and change some negative behavior and attitude that young people seem to inculcate due to the norms of our societal values such assarah traditions, cultural and religious beliefs. Contextual bible study is the study of the bible in its own context in an interactive way, sharing the context of the reader and the context of the bible into dialogue and also to raise awareness and transformation. This seminar therefore, intends to challenge young people especially boys and the menfolk in general to change and correct certain behaviors and self-centered attitudes that pose a threat to the health and mental state of children, girls, young women and women in the society, thereby encouraging our male counterparts to be better men, husbands, fathers, lovers and brothers in the society that not only protect but see that harmful practices and attitudes that degrade women are erased and inculcating positive behavior that will foster peace and harmony in our community and also give room for women to contribute positively to the society at large. It is in view of the foregoing that young people were drawn from various youth based NGOs, health community, religious society, ministry of women affairs, ministry of youth and development and individuals that have the young people at heart to deliberate on various issues that concerns this large populace. Looking at the issues; gender based violence, HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality and reproductive health rights, these are issues that are labelled as “women issues” because most of the caring and activism has been done by women. Men are rarely seen in the picture in the fight against such issues therefore we are urging religious leaders and men to make sexual and gender based violence and HIV “human issues”. At this seminar, contextual bible study was used as a tool to challenge men to have a fresh look at their responsibilities. We are convinced that this responsibilities have become more even more urgent in the struggle against sexual and gender based violence and HIV. We contend that by mobilizing boys, young men and men, religious communities will increase their effectiveness in addressing pressing social, political and economic issues. Definitely we believe that men are not the problem: they are well placed to contribute towards social transformation. They are critical players in contributing towards “a new heaven and a new earth”. This is a world characterized by gender justice. Gender justice is achieved when women and men interact as equals created in the image of God.

In different parts of the world, men have emerged as the gender that is mostly responsible for perpetrating sexual and gender based violence. In addition they are most likely to have multiple concurrent sexual partners thereby increasing their partners’ (either at home or outside) and their ownvulnerability to HIV. This has seen an increase in the use of the idea “transformative masculinity”, especially in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA).

“Transformative Masculinity” seeks to challenge boys and men to contribute towards more helpful and life giving ideas about what it means to be men. In many cultures, ideas relating to a “real man” suggest that is one who:

  • Uses force and violence in relationships
  • Rough, tough and insensitive
  • Does not recognize the human rights of women, feelings/emotions(especially in public)
  • Does not accept leadership of women
  • Has sex with as many women as possible
  • Accepts the use of language that denigrates the stature of women
  • Must always be in control; possessive and dominating
  • Exceedingly competitive and does not fall
  • Addicted to work.

This and so much more the list can go. The overall aim is to contribute towards the multiplication of “gender equitable” men in our communities.

The Role of Religious Leaders in Promoting Transformative Masculinity.

Religious leaders play avital role in promoting transformative masculinity. To begin with, religions have tended to support or justify the abuse of power by men. Many men, including those who are not actively religious, appeal to sacred texts to justify why they should dominate women. Some perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence maintain that religion has accorded them the rights to do as they please with women. Religious leaders can help to challenge such abuses of religion by challenging men to be more sensitive and caring.


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