Where Religion and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Meet.

By: Hendrica Okondo, Global Programme Manager SRHR and HIV and AIDS- Focal Point: AfricaImage

Although religious beliefs are a barrier for women to claim their rights, there are opportunities to work with religious leaders as not all religious groups are restrictive. There are some who are listening and meeting women in the difficult situations they live in. One way of working with religious groups is by looking at their values, especially with Christian groups. By looking at their Christian values we can address SRHR through the values of justice, compassion and love. There is also a way we can engage religious groups as there is a big gap between the rhetoric of the mainstream conservative groups and the realities within which the church operates and provides services so there is an element of compassion that can be used. Instead of profiling all faith communities as conservative and difficult to work with, we might want to think about engaging with them by having dialogues. Of course there are those that are inflexible and won’t change because it is within their hierarchal structures and traditional beliefs, but even within that there are common areas of engaging around women and children’s health. So as women’s rights activist and feminists we really need to start the dialogue.

As World YWCA and ARROW are funded through NORAD to have these dialogues, we also need to engage to make sure that they happen. The ultra-conservative groups may not want to discuss. But they are not against education. On the whole religious groups do not object to education or health, universal health or gender equality because it is in the fundamental basis of all religions. Every religion believes that everyone is created equal in the image of God. But it is in the traditions and norms that there is a difference, and therefore a backlash around the whole sexual rights debate and also in terms of women’s agency. So in some religions there is the whole promotion of men as the decision-maker and that women should not have agency. That is a restrictive view of religious texts.

We will be working with a circle of feminist theologians who will be coming from a theological perspective and collaborate with ARROW and working with sisters of Islam who are going to be looking from the Islamic side while we look at the Christian side. At the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) the religion leaders told us that they do not have the skills, whereas UN reports tells us these groups are powerful and well-resourced so there are mechanisms for having dialogue.

Religion for many women is the point of contact; it is the faith based organisations that provide the social support, education, health and social protection. So we need to look at what they provide at the community level. We need to go to them with a positive approach. It is not that everyone who is religious is wrong, for us as the World YWCA we are in both worlds because of our work on rights and advocacy, but we are also comfortable in the faith-based aspect because that is where our members are.

Due to the support that faith-based organisations provide they have a lot more influence in communities. It is also down to member states signing up to declarations and not implementing and not being held accountable as duty bearers. There is an accountability failure and that gap is met by faith based organisations.

Let’s not be naïve, there are groups at the end of the spectrum who want to control women’s agency and there is a backlash. But what we’re saying is why we can’t recreate 1994 at the ICPD conference, there were much more conservative views then, but we were able to have dialogues.

A standalone gender equality goal must include SRHR. Gender has to be a priority over other categories race, disability etc because no matter what you are always worse off as a women. It is a gender and human rights issue.

Gender Based Violence and the Bible

By Kgothatso Mokoena, World YWCA Programme Associate. Kgothatso is attending the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Busan, Korea.

Violence against women and girls has been described as one of the most wicked, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

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Rev Thabo Makhoba- Arch- Bishop of Cape Town, South Africa & Kgothatso

To illustrate the scope of this atrocity and the lack of justice in many situations, is the story of 28 year old Shrien Dewani from India, who was murdered in Cape Town, South Africa. A taxi driver, Zola Tongo, admitted the murder claiming the Shrien’s husband, had offered R15,000.00 to have his wife killed! The South African courts ruled the victim’s husband could be extradited to face the charges but so far nothing has happened. There is also the tragic circumstance of Oscar Pistorious’s killing of his long term girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, falsely describedas self-defense!  Many other crimes against women remain unrecorded.

These two reports are amongst many which remind us of the negative impact of gender based violence in our communities.

South Africa has 14, 860 rape- GBV cases reported every year, and India has doubled its number to about 24,206 since 2010, of these only 26% resulted in conviction. The South Africa filed memorandum in 2010 indicated that Government and police failures were the root of crimes against women, with insuficient recognition of discrimination, exploitation and suppression of women by political leaders.

Although legislation provides the umbrella, government and social structures have left women and their causes eroding and drenched in a thunderstorm of inequality.

Every year at the Human Right Council, countries report on laws, policies and regulations and proposing new amendment or resolutions on policies in place. Recently most countries have replaced “rape” with the broader term “sexual assaults” . The change is welcome, but to me insufficient. More laws do not change the reality that existing ones remain unimplemented.

In relation to the church,  biblical injunctions are misinterpreted and used to justify the oppression of women. The church also teaches us that husbands are to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). This “giving up‟ carries the implication of giving up one’s rights or privileges, but if Jesus is the example, it extends even to laying down one’s life for the other. This is the perspective which is to characterise a Christian husband’s attitude to his wife.

The extent to which patriarchy has distorted the scriptural teachings and messages of the world’s religions has meant that until now, many women have remained silent and accepted abuse, vulnerable to further emotional or physical violence, trapped in abusive situations and likely to blame themselves.

I was recently at the African Union Summit and the ITI organised by the World YWCA, with young women from over 45 countries. As a community worker I’ve always believed that young women must be given tools to change their communities – education, opportunities, choices, access to their rights and spaces to express themselves without fear (at schools, churches, home, etc).

I call upon civil society, religious communities,  the UN and its respective agencies to hold member states accountable. To make every effort to explore all possibilities to bring mechanisms such as the CEDAW, Beijing declaration, Resolution 1820 relevant to the millions of women and girls in the world exposed to these atrocities.

We are approaching the 2015 deadline on the MDGs, I urge our leaders to include elimination of all forms of violence against women as a target for the next phase, as we also continue with interfaith dialogues to help address this issue.

Every future atrocity – reported or not – in my country or elsewhere, confirms that there is still a long way to go. Kgothatso ya Bakoena

REFLECTIONS ON THE AFRICA REGION ICPD

By Nelly Lukale, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Champion, YWCA of Kenya

Following a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development “ICPD Beyond 2014”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) undertook an operational review of the implementation of the Programme of Action (PoA) on the African Continent. The ICPD was first held in 1994 in Cairo with the purpose of linking population issues with development. It declared that gender, education and health, including reproductive health, were areas important for balanced development. The conference adopted a Program of Action and set specific goals to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, universal access to reproductive health; and provide universal education.

An African Regional Conference to review evidence of progress, challenges, gaps and emerging issues in relation to the achievement of the goals set out in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Addis Ababa Ethiopia from 30th September to 4th October 2013. The conference was expected to chart a new course to scale up its efforts, and establish new ways of approaching population issues.

Nelly Lukale

Nelly Lukale

African youth met for a two day pre-conference before the main conference and set out their priorities. The forum brought together Ministers of youth, youth leaders, UNFPA senior staff and other youth groups from different countries that work with adolescents and youth to review progress, challenges and key human rights issues for youth. It was organized to create a platform for dialogue and sharing experiences so as to make recommendations on the post International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD beyond 2014).

These recommendations will eventually feed into the regional intergovernmental conference on ICPD in Africa, for the next twenty years. The youth discussed a number of important issues including sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, youth employment, family planning and maternal mortality as well as inclusive participation, security and governance.   They called upon their governments to ensure there is actual fulfillment of promises on youth matters and programmes. They also appealed for more investment and allocation of resources particularly for rights-based health interventions for young people, who account for the overwhelming majority of the continent’s population.

I was privileged to attend a two day Advocacy in Practice (AiP) workshop organized by International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) and other partners. This is a workshop that is held in advance of any important regional conferences or UN negotiations. It gives participants the opportunity to take what they have learned into practice and action. It was an intense two day event that helped participants strengthened their skills to effectively advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights at the national and international levels.

Over 20 young women and youth activists from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, and Zambia participated in this AiP. Participants identified priority areas that needed to be included in the final document such as ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescents, including access to safe and legal abortion, modern contraception, comprehensive sexuality education; ending harmful cultural, traditional, and religious practices such as female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage; eliminating gender-based violence, including marital rape and intimate partner violence; and ending violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The activists also wanted to ensure that governments are held accountable for promoting and protecting the rights and health of their citizens. The AiP partners were present at the main conference tweeting live and also keeping a close eye on the government negotiations and how they addressed the critical issues and recommendations from youth and CSOs.

Civil society organizations who also had a two day pre-conference and came up with recommendations called upon governments to ensure there is comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and it should be freely available through the primary health care system, accessible to all without discrimination, and provided in a way that respects human rights, including the rights to privacy, confidentiality, informed consent, and bodily integrity.

With only a few months left to the end of the ICPD PoA; many of the promises to young people set out in Cairo remain unfulfilled. Millions of girls and women worldwide are still without adequate sexual and reproductive health services and universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people is yet to be delivered. It’s noted that Equal access for the youth to health, education and economic opportunities doubles the potential for development and helps societies to break the cycle of poverty which is still prevalent in Africa. Young people still do not have seat at most decision-making tables and there is need for inclusion of the youth in decision making as it is the best way to address their issues. Governments should emphasize on inter-generational leadership hence promote age and gender balance.

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Global Inter-faith and Secular Alliance : domaine d’intervention SRHR

By FALOLOU F. Lucrèce, Volontaire YWCA Bénin

Ce dimanche 7 juillet, s’est tenu un meeting sur « l’extrémisme religieux et la SDSR » dans une des salles de réunion du Palace hôtel. Cette réunion organisée par GISA (Global Inter-faith and Secular Alliance : domaine d’intervention SRHR) s’est focalisée sur la perception des religions, notamment les religions catholique et islamique, en matière de santé sexuelle et reproductifs des jeunes, et notamment des femmes.

Lucrèce

Lucrèce

En effet, la plupart des jeunes, notamment dans les pays en voie de développement, se considèrent religieux. Ainsi, la foi et la spiritualité leur servent de cadre éthique et influencent leurs croyances, leurs pratiques et leurs choix par rapport à la famille, au mariage, à la procréation et à la sexualité. Alors dans ces pays (par exemples le Nigéria), les normes sociales et culturelles imposées par la religion, la tradition et/ou la société ont d’importants effets sur la santé et le droit à la santé des jeunes. Or le droit à la santé est intimement lié aux autres droits de l’homme tels que le droit à l’éducation, à la religion et à l’expression. Alors il est urgent que les politiques et programmes qui soutiennent les droits de santé sexuelle et reproductive des femmes et des jeunes suscitent l’apparition d’approches « interculturelles » pour le bien-être de ces couches vulnérables. C’est donc sur ces notes d’espoir que cette réunion a pris fin.

C’est à la suite de cette réunion, qu’à démarrer la cérémonie officielle d’ouverture de la conférence internationale sur les droits de l’homme de la CIPD au delà de 2014. Les sponsors officiels  de cette conférence ont été représentés à la cérémonie officielle d’ouverture en tant que conférenciers principaux de la séance par:

-         Mme Renée Jones-Bos, secrétaire général du ministère des Affaires étrangères des Pays-Bas ;

-         Le professeur Babatunde Osotimehin, Directeur exécutif du FNUAP ;

-         Mme Navi Pillay, Haut commissaire de l’ONU pour les droits de l’homme.

Au cours de leurs différentes interventions, chaque conférencier a surtout mis l’accent sur l’importance de l’intégration de la santé sexuelle et reproductive dans les politiques et les programmes de développement. L’accent a été également mis sur la promotion et la protection des droits fondamentaux de toutes les femmes, notamment celui de maîtriser leur sexualité et de décider librement de tout ce qui s’y rapporte, comme leur santé en matière de sexualité et de procréation, sans subir de contrainte, de discrimination ou de violence.

De même, ces conférenciers ont fait un rappel des différents progrès qui ont été accomplis dans la mise en œuvre du programme d’action dans toutes les régions du monde. En effet, il s’agit de stratégies et de programmes conçus par les pays  pour promouvoir la santé et les droits en matière de sexualité et de procréation ; ce faisant, des avancées réelles et substantielles ont été obtenus.  Il s’agit notamment de la diminution du taux de nouvelles infections VIH dans de nombreux pays, de la réduction globale de 50% de la mortalité maternelle et de l’augmentation de l’utilisation des moyens de contraception modernes. Toutefois, il reste beaucoup à faire pour réaliser le programme de la CIPD car,  selon le professeur Babatunde Osotimehin, bon nombres de petites filles sont privées de leur droits à l’éducation, tombent enceintes très tôt, sont victimes de la fistule obstétricale, n’ont pas accès aux services de PF, de santé sexuelle et reproductive, bon nombres de femmes meurent en couches, etc. Alors, il est indispensable de mettre le droit en matière de la SRHR et de PF au cœur de l’agenda de développement pour le bien-être des femmes et des adolescents. En conclusion, le directeur exécutif du FNUAP a rappelé la mission de son organisation qui est celui d’œuvrer en faveur du droit à la santé (…) (annexe). Chacun des panelists a fait allusion à Martin Luther King, précurseur des droits de l’homme qui affirme : « l’injustice est une menace pour la justice ».

 

Celebrating father of the Nation, Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela

By Kgothatso Mokoena, World YWCA Programme Associate, writes below on the life of  the First Black South African President Nelson Mandela and the father of the Great Nation of South Africa, Kgothatso’s native land.

1918 – Born in the Eastern Cape

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

He was born in 1918 into the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people in Umtata in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Often called by his clan name – “Madiba”.

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, he was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school.

His father, a Counsellor to the Thembu royal family, died when Nelson Mandela was nine, and he was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu people, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

1943 – Joined African National Congress

In 1941, aged 23, he ran away from an arranged marriage and went to Johannesburg, and this is where he started his political Journey. Two years later, Nelson, completed his Law degree in Witswaterand University and opened a law practice in Johannesburg with his partner, Oliver Tambo. It is during all this that he was exposed to liberal, radical and Africanist influence. His passion for politics was highly influenced by the state of racism and discrimination at the time. The same year, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and later co-founded the ANC Youth League.

He married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944. They were divorced in 1958 after having four children.

1956 – Charged with high treason, but charges dropped

Together, Mr. Mandela and Mr. Tambo campaigned against apartheid, the system devised by the all-white National Party which oppressed the black majority, then later on , early in 1956, Mr. Mandela was charged with high treason, along with 155 other activists, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial. His Resistance to apartheid grew, as he mainly stood against the new Pass Laws, which dictated where black people were allowed to live and work.

In 1958, Mr. Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, who was later to take an active role in the campaign to free her husband from prison

1962 – Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison

He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government

Sadness and anger clouded the streets of Soweto, Alexander and Diepkloof as the news spread that the Youth leader has been arrested once again and this time taken to a place where no one know . ‘Khulul ‘u Mandela’ (Release Mandela) song was then sang every time a police van passed by, this broth no good but more torture and deaths to more 80 activists at the time.

1964 – Charged again, sentenced to life

Tension with the apartheid regime grew, and soared to new heights in 1960 when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre. Later on, in winter of 1964 Mr. Mandela was charged again, to Life sentence, sent to isolation where he spend many painful years in hard labor.

In the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, Mr. Mandela’s mother died and his eldest son was killed in a car crash but he was not allowed to attend the funerals.

While in jail on Robben Island in the 1980s, Mr. Mandela contracted tuberculosis and he had to negotiate in order to receive treatment. “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts”.

He remained in prison on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982.

As Mr. Mandela and other ANC leaders languished in prison or lived in exile, the youths in black townships did their best to fight white minority rule which resulted in hundreds of them being killed and may injured and thousand forced out of school. With one voice, the ANC led by the exiled Mr. Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid but ingeniously decided to focus it on one cause and one person – the demand to release Mr. Mandela.

“In prison, you come face to face with time. There is nothing more terrifying”

Nelson Mandela

1990 – Freed from prison

The pressure produced results, and in 1990, after spending 27 years in prison, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC. Mr. Mandela was released from prison and talks on forming a new multi-racial democracy for South Africa began

Later in 1992 Mr. Mandela separated from his wife, Winnie

1993 – Wins Nobel Peace Prize

In December 1993, Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1994 – Elected first black president

Though was still young at the time, I could remember the songs and ululates as Mr. Mandela become the country’s first black president four years later and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. During his term, he entrusted his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, with the day-to-day business of the government, while he concentrated on the ceremonial duties of a leader, building a new international image of South Africa.

1999 – Steps down as leader

Mr. Mandela stepped down from Presidency and declared he wanted to continue serving ‘His’ people in other ways. After his official retirement, his public appearances were mostly connected with the work of the Mandela Foundation, a charitable fund that he founded (In 2003-2006 I was one of the programme co-coordinators in Matjhabeng local Municipality).

The programme was on Youth programmes, the main focus was on Youth development, Child and family welfare, orphans and vulnerable children, children heading households and children affected and infected by HIV and AIDS. Within this programmes we developed youth in life skills (Computer, Business, Accounting and handwork etc.). Most of our beneficiaries have shared their stories and will continue to do so as they grow. Nelson Mandela had a great passion for young women development and empowerment, and because of this his foundation introduced a programme called “Youth, Change Agents”, this mainly focused on young women’s leadership.

Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela became South Africa’s high-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV and AIDS and helping to secure his country’s right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

2001 – Diagnosed with prostate cancer

Mr. Mandela married Graca Machel on his 80th birthday (widow to the late President of Mozambique Mr. Samora Machel) and was later diagnosed with prostate cancer and survived. Even though he had serious health issues, he spent time negotiating for peace in other African countries including DRC and Burundi amongst others.

2004 – Retires from public life

At the age of 85 he retired from his public life and shared a wish to spend time with his family and friends and just engaged when attention was really needed. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he warned anyone thinking of inviting him to future engagements.

2005 – Announces his son has died of an HIV-related illness

It was time when taboos still highly surrounded the AIDS epidemic, Mr Mandela announced that his son had died of AIDS, and urged South Africans to talk about AIDS ” to make it appear like a normal illness”.

2007 – Forms The Elders group

On his 89th birthday, after the death of his surviving son Makgatho, he formed The Elders: a group of leading world figures, to offer their expertise and guidance “to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems”.

2010 – Appears at closing ceremony of World Cup

Tata’s wish came true, he wanted to see the world cup in African soil, and was blessed as it was hosted by his beloved country, South Africa, and appeared to greet the guest and fellow country men.

The country continues to celebrate him and later 2012 the first South African banknotes featuring his face went into circulation.

In the news recently, it has been reported that Nelson Mandela has not been well, and indeed it is true, he has been treated in hospital for the past two years, and in 2011 he was diagnosed with abdominal problems and later went for Cholecystectomy (removal of gall bladder).

But in recent months he has been troubled repeatedly by a lung infection. Today marks the 22nd day in hospital since June 8th, 2013 the whole world is in prayer for his speedy recovery and good wishes for the family.

Nelson Mandela’s life is a true model of leadership; his life has given me a life long lesson of humanity. His charisma, self-deprecating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, will continue to motivate me.

South Africans have been holding an all-night prayer vigil for former President Nelson Mandela, outside his former home in Soweto and the hospital in Pretoria where the World YWCA General Secretary Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and YWCA-SA led in prayers.

I wish Nelson ‘Tata’ Mandela and the family all the best, and would like to call upon the politicians and media to show respect by dedicating this time to the family. I also wish to encourage South Africans to continue to celebrate a life well lived, a life shared by all for all, a life of a father who’s gift to us worth more than Gold.

Nelson Mandela

Speaking from the dock in the Rivonia court room, Mr. Mandela used the stand to convey his beliefs about democracy, freedom and equality.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said.

“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

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.

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