AIDS 2012: From darkness to light

As the International AIDS Conference 2012 concluded last week. Two YWCA delegates share their reflections:

By MARIA ZIWENGE from the YWCA of Zimbabwe

Maria Ziwenge

I was very excited when I received an invitation to attend the AIDS International Conference. I was offered an opportunity to talk about my experience at the Inter-faith pre-conference. The issue of presenting as a keynote speaker was the only thing making me a little bit scared! I would get nervous every moment I thought about it. I left Gweru on Sunday after my son was discharged from the hospital so I had to travel during the night. My flight was on Tuesday so I left Zimbabwe on Tuesday for the conference. What a long journey it was, I had to travel for 15 hours! I got to Washington and started polishing my presentation. The day of presenting came and I had to speak. I woke up early in the morning started to prepare at 4am. We waited for a shuttle to take us to the place but it took a long time so I had to walk with Monica Simon and Kuena Diaho. As for these two it was a long way but for me I didn’t recognise the distance, all I wanted was to get to the place and speak. We reached the place and printed my presentation then my two friends’ hand me over to the organisers.

I was trembling with fear when I had to meet and shake hands with respected people of higher classes than mine. The time came we went to the stage and when it was time for introductions I stood up and rushed to the microphone to speak but then Rabbi held my hand and said, ‘No it’s not yet time for you to speak’. I couldn’t carry the shame I put myself into but I pulled myself together. All the first speakers spoke very well especially Rabbi so I started asking myself the question if I was going to be able to present my speech in the way others do theirs. But God helped me and I spoke very well as it was one of the comments I received from the audience. When I finished the whole room clapped for me and I felt something like a stone rolling from my heart. TO TELL THE TRUTH I WILL NEVER FOGET THIS MOMENTING TIME.

By Haidy Sidky Riad from the YWCA of Egypt

From darkness to light

Keep me promise

Stop HIV

All of these titles aim to one goal – fight HIV and stop it!

First I am happy to be here as it is the first time for me to be outside of my country and to attend this International AIDS conference. It is a truly great opportunity. Local and national leaders participating have spoke about people living with HIV from all over the world. UNAIDS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, Michel Sidibe spoke of the 22 years of fighting HIV. He highlighted the urgent need to continue providing funding for HIV treatment and prevention. UN SECRETARY GENERAL, Ban Ki. Moon, said that we will continue to support and promote health, dignity and justice. SECREATRY OF THE UNITED STATES, Hillary Clinton vowed to promote human rights and called for unity in the global response to HIV. All of these leaders called for a greater response to HIV.

Haidy Sidky Riad

I believe that when we work together we will destroy and fight HIV with our collective efforts and we will eradicate it. We should ask ourselves why did my mother die with it? Why was child born with it? Now we need to affirm that we will live without HIV, mothers will live without it and children will be born without it. Everything is possible, you can be anyone, you can love, you can dream all the day never reaching the end of everything that is possible for you.

Let there be zero new HIV infections all over the world.

The Need for Young Women to Learn the Basic Science of HIV

By Marian Okondo World YWCA volunteer at AIDS 2012

Often when HIV and AIDS issues are raised we always think of the social, behavioral and economical science topics: What policies are being implemented, what are the behavioral risk factors and so on. Very rarely is the basic science of HIV and AIDS addressed particularly when it involves the education of young women and men with no basic science background. When I planned on joining the World YWCA delegates as a volunteer at XIX International 2012 AIDS Conference, there was an expectation that all the talks would be centered on social and behavioral science. This however was not the case, there were many sessions that discussed the basic science of the HIV virus, including but not limited to its genetics, pathogenesis, reservoirs and the ongoing research that is currently taking place around the world.

However technical the sessions may have been I realized the importance of learning this area of the HIV endemic. Many times you find people living with HIV, some HIV health care providers and the care givers lacking the basic knowledge of the disease.  They are unable to understand the test results and treatment, the side effect of the medications they take to treat physiological and metabolic diseases with the Anti-viral drugs (ARVs) they are on, they lack knowledge on how to prevent STI infections and co-infections (one of the complications of the disease that may even result in death if not treated) and also lack an understanding of the ongoing research on the use of microbicides in HIV prevention. It can therefore not be stressed enough that we need to provide education on basic science.  Basic knowledge such as, etiology of the virus and how it causes disease is one way to educate young women and men with no science background.

We can empower young women and men living with HIV and AIDS by giving them the resources to learn about their treatment: Why they are given the 3 dose minimum, why they have been administered the particular drugs they are taking and what are the modes of prevention they can follow to prevent co-infections.  They also need to be educated on what they are doing to their bodies when they fail to adhere to treatment, many times the individual already has low self esteem and is in a state of hopelessness; where they feel that there will be no difference if they take the medicines or not, failing to realise what effect it could have on them. Basic science would be able to give a good explanation to the individual and most likely provide the shock value needed to push the individuals to adhere to treatment.

It is also important for the public to know the scientific advances that may help in prevention of HIV and AIDS and improve the lives of people living with HIV. For example not a lot of young women and men understand the need of genotyping. They do not realise that with genotyping they will gain information of their susceptibility to different diseases including HIV and AIDS. Those living with HIV and AIDS will understand why they are not able to take certain medication. This will allow the public to demand access to necessary biomedical techniques and tests from their governments and health care providers.

It is clear that basic science knowledge on the HIV virus is more than necessary.  It allows for better understanding of treatment and prevention. The World YWCA needs to lobby for young women and men living with HIV and AIDS to have access to education on their treatment and their disease. It will empower them to be better involved in their treatment and care regimens.

AIDS 2012: Discriminado en la abogacía de la No-Discriminación

By Marjorie H. Cordero, from the YWCA of Chile

Marjorie H. Cordero

Como es sabido el VIH-SIDA  es una de las temáticas que suele discriminar a quienes contraen la enfermedad, de la misma forma que se discrimina por ser una persona pobre, de color y/o indígena, por no estar escolarizado o por no entender o hablar un idioma, en fin de muchas… siendo justamente esta última la que me inspiró a elaborar esta reflexión. Estando sentada cerca del final de la sala, en una de las de las sesiones de la XIX Conferencia Internacional de SIDA, Washington 2012, necesite de la ayuda de una de las chicas de la YWCA para que me tradujera, y una mujer que se encontraba sentada en la fila de adelante nos comentó en inglés “no puedo escuchar, me molesta el ruido que hacen”) ante lo cual yo no pude responder porque no hablo inglés). Sentí bastante impotencia por ello, porque creo que esa pequeña sustitución refleja, como en muchas oportunidades notros/as no estamos atentos respecto de cómo nuestros actos pueden afectar a las personas que tenemos al lado.

Me resultó paradójico pensar por lo tanto, que se hablará durante la exposición de discriminación y yo misma me hubiese sentido de esa forma; porque se han puesto a pensar qué el discriminar no es otra cosa que, no pensar en el otro/a- y cuando digo esto me estoy refiriendo en todos nuestros actos cotidianos, por que pareciera que somos buenos para dar discursos enérgicos sobre como queremos cambiar o mejorar la vida de otras mujeres (en nuestro caso como organización) pero cuánto realmente lo ponemos en práctica? Creemos que porque damos unos pocos pesos a una causa o damos un poco de tiempo y/o energía en un proyecto basta para cambiar la situación que estamos viviendo, yo creo que no. Con esas acciones no basta, todo seguirá exactamente igual, nos reuniremos quizás en unos cuantos años más y con un poco más de avance tecnológico seguiremos hablando de lo que deberíamos hacer. Yo, les propongo y me propongo que el primer cambio empiece por cada una de nosotras, que nos volquemos a nosotras para observarnos, analizarnos y cuestionarnos en cada uno de nuestros actos, tanto para consigo misma como hacia los otros, yo creo que estos son elementos esenciales para lograr mejorar el tipo de relaciones sociales que tenemos. Sumado claro,  a otros cambios estructurales…pero esos análisis lo dejo para otra ocasión.

English Version translated by  Mandy Nogarede, World YWCA Staff

As is well known, HIV and AIDS is the only illness that results in discrimination of the person who contracts the disease in the same way that someone poor, coloured or indigenous, or with no education or who does not understand well, or who speaks a different language, etc. is discriminated against. It is exactly this last point that inspired me to write this blog. Sitting at the back of the room during one of the sessions of the XIX International Conference on AIDS, Washington 2012, I need the help of one of the young women from the YWCA to translate for me. A woman sitting in the row in front said to us in English ‘ I cannot hear what they are saying due to the noise you are making’ (I could not reply because I do not speak English). I felt quite powerless and I believe that this little incident demonstrates that often we are not careful to respect how our acts can affect those who are marginalised. Paradoxically this resulted in me thinking therefore, that I would have felt the same about someone who was talking during the exposition on discrimination; discrimination is nothing else than not to think of the other person’s situation, and when I say this I am referring to all our daily acts. It seems we are good at giving rousing speeches on how we wish to change and improve the lives of other women (in our case as an organisation) but when can we really do this? We believe that because we give a bit of money to a cause or give a bit of our time or energy to a project that we can change the situation that we are experiencing, but I don’t think so. These actions are not enough, everything will continue just the same, we will meet maybe for a few more years and there will be some technological improvements and we will continue to talk of what we must do. However, I propose to you all and to myself that the first change starts with each one of us, that we begin with ourselves, that we observe ourselves and analyse and question each of our actions, equally in relation to ourselves and to others, I believe that this is essential in order to achieve improved social interaction. Let us be clear, other changes are needed, but these I will deal with another time.

Pushing the Barriers: AIDS 2012

As the 19th International Conference on AIDS continues, two MORE inspiring young women from the YWCA share their reflections:

 Hannah Yurkovich’s World YWCA Intern from Kent University, USA

Hannah Yurkovich

I have been excited to be involved in the 19th Biannual International AIDS conference in Washington DC, but before arriving here, I did not know what I expected to see. Since arriving, I have not been at all disappointed, and my first thoughts after entering the Convention Centre with the other 21,000 delegates, was that people here were by far very passionate about ending AIDS. Many of those attending are HIV positive, and not hesitant to hide their status, something I have never observed before. I am certain that this will be a unique and valuable experience for me, and that I will learn a lot about one of the world’s most real and widespread issues.

I have been fortunate enough to have never personally known anyone who has been affected by the AIDS pandemic. Yet from the very first session that I attended, it struck me how many people’s lives had been changed directly and indirectly. That which had been a secret not to be disclosed even to one’s closest friends and family was now being shared through detailed personal stories by many of the speakers. One particular example that stuck out to me was the presentation on body maps that one young HIV positive woman shared with us. The traumatic and unspeakable suffering that many of the marginalized women experienced, who were HIV positive, who had gone through physical, sexual and psychological violence or who were transgender, was drawn in graphic images highlighting their physical and psychological wounds. This was a perfect example of how a diverse community can find security in opening up, when one individual chooses to share what is vital in standing up for one’s human rights. Even though I was encouraged to hear that action was taken in utilizing such exercises, in presenting evidence of gender based violence to the government, it was saddening to hear how the justice system and the police played a part in the oppression that this marginal population went through.

The opening ceremony could be summarised in a message of hope. Each speaker represented a different cultural group with a different connection to the AIDS movement. But there was optimism in the air, reminders of the successes that science had achieved through history, and promises to support the fight to free the next generation of the pandemic.  I look forward to hearing more success stories as well as supportive reliable statistics in how progress is being made in ending mother to child transmission of the virus, ending social prejudices, making treatment prevention, and turning this former death sentence into a condition that enables people to lead long and comfortable lives.

 Dana Awwad from YWCA of Palestine 

Dana Awwad

First and for most, I am grateful and thankful for the YWCA for providing me with this opportunity of attending the 19th International AIDS Conference. It is a great pleasure to be here and to experience what I am currently experiencing. I have been to a number of conferences before, but this time the experience is different. I am attending this conference as a health care advocate being part of the YWCA of Palestine and not as a scientist. The information I am seeking is not the same, not experimental designs nor scientific data, but approaches, solutions, and success stories. However, after the Interfaith Pre-Conference I realised the difficulties that health advocates and HIV patients are still facing in their community.  Unfortunately, science has come a long way and has produced impeccable solutions while humans still have a long way to go. I was devastated to learn that women are still undermined and unfairly treated in many if not most parts of the world. Women are still violated, women are still raped, women are still forced to work as prostitutes, and children are still born to live a dark future. I don’t want this to happen to my family, friends, and people. AIDS is not a serious issue in Palestine, but there are many vulnerable and risk groups and their numbers are on the rise. There are many factors affecting the health and lifestyles of Palestinians, and I hope we act now to save our future before the danger is out of hands. On the bright side, I heard many success stories.

I learnt that since 2009 in the capital of the Unites States of America, Washington DC, no one child has been born HIV positive! I have heard the promises and commitments of the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when she declared the commitment of the Obama Administration towards HIV and AIDS. The United States will grant millions of dollars to science and research and the health sector. Finally, in a special meeting with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, the YWCA delegates learnt that they are not the only women advocating for women’s health and rights. Representative Schakowsky is one of the advocates for the International Violence against Woman Act (IVAW). I am in my second day of the conference and I am positive that there is still more to learn and more to be inspired by.

 

 

Faith Inspired Sexuality

By Rebecca Phwitiko, World YWCA Board Member

Rebecca as part of the World YWCA delegation to AIDS 2012 in Washington, DC shares her reflections on faith and sexuality:

In one of my favourite books on HIV and AIDS, ’28 stories of AIDS in Africa’ Stephanie Nolen says the reason why HIV and AIDS still remains a challenge is that its transmission preys on our most intimate moments. And so sitting in the workshop on young people sexuality and faith in the context of HIV during the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV, I felt the truth of these words.

Rebecca Phwitiko

A research by John Blevins of the Rollins School of Public Health (Emory University) finds that religion does not feed into the sexual values and activities of most young people. This I didn’t find surprising at all. But then what I found to be amazing was that there are still a lot of young people out there asking critical questions about their faith as it relates to sexuality, what does it mean that Solomon had many wives for instance?

So in my mind this is a vital opening for the faith community. There is a great need among young for more open conversations with their faith leaders about their sexuality, particularly in the context of HIV. Even in the most conservative communities, HIV has taken sex and all that comes with it to the public space. There is no longer the luxury of saying what I do with my partner, how I protect myself is a taboo subject. Sometimes these uncomfortable conversations can ‘postpone’ a new risk of exposure to HIV.

We live in an age where 61 percent of all new HIV infections are among young women, particularly in Africa. Religious entities are uniquely positioned to respond to HIV because they are pervasive and dynamic.

Churches, mosques, traditional religions, are at the heart of African society. Faith organisations need to understand the powerful entity that they can be in addressing public health issues such as the sexual and reproductive health of young women.

It is a great injustice when young women are denied their rights to sexuality education and services. And who can better champion the rights of a marginalized group, our young women, than the people that teach us about compassion, love and peace. Unfortunately the faith community has had difficulties in addressing sexuality in HIV prevention, reproductive health, family planning, and women’s empowerment. Religion has often been a barrier, and efforts to mobilise religion as a positive force for addressing these issues need to be strengthened. It is time to overcome injustices and ensure that AIDS responses improve the lives of women and girls.

The Collective Voice of our Generation: AIDS 2012

As the 19th International Conference on AIDS continues two inspiring young women from the YWCA share their reflections:

Jenna Lodge from YWCA USA 

Jenna Lodge

For the last 2 days, the young women of the World Delegation have heard presentations from world-renowned speakers, top HIV/AIDS research analysts and victorious individuals thriving with HIV.  Their statements are profound and their testimonies were filled with courage and hope.  But what stands out the most was an impromptu conversation had by six young women taking a rest between sessions.  In our reflections of the different speakers, we all had a common desire to want the conversations and presentations to “go there.” it seemed as if the speaker’s words carried a hint of “fluff” instead of getting to the real, hard-pressed issues that we all longed to hear about.  In that moment of honesty amongst the six of us, we all vowed to take a stand throughout the week and ask questions that “go there.” The 25 million women and girls that we represent around the world demand more than a rosy façade of an issue that deserves real solutions for treatment, overall support for individuals that identify as positive, and prevention strategies for communities around the world.

As the delegation moves toward the opening of the 19th International AIDS conference, we must remember to address the concerns of young women and girls that we present around the world.  We must remember to create an atmosphere of acceptance over stigma and a keen sense of curiosity and learning over judgment.  We will stand in solidarity in sessions and workshops to make our collective voice be heard.  By the end of the conference, our goal is for all 21,000 participants to remember the confident young women leaders of the World YWCA that stood up and asked the hard questions and got real answers and solutions for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

Marcie Martinez from the YWCA of Belize

Being able to represent World YWCA and YWCA Belize at AIDS 2012 is a great privilege. Since the time I have reach Washington I have been overwhelmed with all that has been happening. The conference is an international conference that is hosting thousands of delegates from around the world. Therefore the opportunity to meet and network is great. On Friday the 20thof July we started to participate in sessions that highlighted the work that is being done all over the world in regards to HIV. I believe that many people are really doing great work in the fight against HIV. However, I do believe that we all are missing something in this fight because the numbers for new infections are still very high. There is still so much to be done, even in my country. Everyday having been in Washington, I am learning that HIV is affecting humanity everywhere but at the end of the day we are working in unity to tackle HIV.

Marcie Martinez

Also, meeting and being able to work with the other YWCA delegates has made being able to participate in AIDS 2012 much manageable. I am very impressed with the YWCA delegation because they are dynamic leaders who are very passionate about making change in their communities. I have been enjoying my days getting to know these amazing women. We have been participating in marches and attending sessions that are highlighting the issues that have been arising around HIV. We also had the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Jen Schakowsky who represents the district of Illinois. She is an amazing woman who is passionate about women’s right. We were all excited about sitting with her and sharing what the different countries in the YWCA delegation are doing in the area of HIV.

Great things happening in Washington right now!

Leadership and Advocacy on SRHR and HIV

By Arielle VanDerweide, from the YWCA Canada

The World YWCA is actively participating in the AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington taking place this week.

Participants at training

It was a longer and warmer walk than expected to the National YWCA office in Washington, DC where the World YWCA Young Women’s Leadership and Advocacy on SRHR and HIV was held. Navigating the metro system with 17 women was an adventure requiring numerous head counts, and everyone was excited to finally arrive and enjoy a breakfast sponsored by Tamara Smith, CEO of the National Capital Area. We were also greeted by Rhonda Bishop as representative of the YWCA USA.

Lintu George (YWCA of India) and Monica Tobias Simon (YWCA of Namibia) led the morning worship services with a reading from the Song of Solomon and reflected upon the beautiful message that God has given and called each one of us by name and created us in His image. Each YWCA participant had an opportunity to share some of the work they were involved in; it was apparent that the YWCA is united in the struggle to empower women, young women and girls.

Following introductions, Melissa Hillebrenner (Girl Up Deputy Director, UN Foundation) did a presentation on how the Girl Up campaign was educating and involving young girls in the US on leadership and fundraising initiatives to support their peers in various other countries (Malawi, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Liberia). In just a few years the project has involved 240,000 US girls and raised 3 million USD to be given towards health, safety, and education, leadership, and ID initiatives.

Rebecca  Phiwitiko, World YWCA Board member from the YWCA of Malawi, and Jenna Lodge, from the YWCA USA spoke about Integrating a Gender and Human Rights approach to implementing services. They placed emphasis on informing practice through consulting with program participants in a bottom-up approach, but also as advocates to act as a bridge to bring these issues forward to government and policy makers. CSW, CEDAW, and the Human Rights Council were reviewed as opportunities for individuals or organizations to hold their country governments accountable and honest in addressing gender and human rights.

Lintu George (YWCA of India) presented information on the World YWCA Strategy on the priority of HIV and AIDS. This included building leadership skills, especially in young women, prevention through education and safe spaces, influencing local and global policies, and supporting all of these actions through communication and documentation.

Nagham Nassar , Programme Associate, Communication Department at the World Office, shared with the delegation information about the movement and how it is built. They talked about the three goals in the strategic framework for 2012/2015 and live examples from each country came up along the presentation. She also shared the structure of the movement that starts with the membership to end up with the staff in the world office. The participants were really eager to have more detailed information about the association.

Early in the afternoon Kuena Diaho (YWCA of Lesotho), Monica Manoni (YWCA of Tanzania), and Hendrica Okondo (Global Programme Manager SRHR & HIV and AIDS,World Office) reflected on a Bible passage (Deut. 30:19) which encourages to “choose life” and protect women. Another passage from the Bible was read by Monica Manoni as an introduction to the Tamar Campaign. Marcie Martinez (YWCA of Belize) and Arielle VanDerWeide (YWCA Canada) facilitated a discussion on this passage and how faith intersects with SRHR and gender based violence. Faith and faith communities can often be central in supporting and guiding women, but it can often be abused when scriptures and misguided teachings can be used to pressure women and their children to stay in harmful situations and to justify abuse or blame women for the abuse they receive. Marjorie Herrera (YWCA of Chile) presented work on SRHR that her association is doing with young women and girls.

After a lunch (sponsored by YWCA USA), Jennifer Catino and Andrew Karlyn (Population Council) demonstrated how the information their organization gathers can and should be used to inform practice. A short film “Girl Effect” showed the risk and protective factors that influence girls’ development, and further statistics and information illustrated that while girls are at the highest risk of SRHR violations and of contracting HIV, girls’ programs are underfunded and often ill-informed.

The day was a good preparation for the week ahead. Logistics, responsibilities, and group scheduling was reviewed before we closed the day and headed back to the residence. A reception for the Interfaith Pre-Conference with drinks and canapés was the finale for the day and set the tone for the following week which is sure to be full of networking, strategizing, and learning.

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