Young Women Speak up – Celebrating our stories

By Andrea Gradiz, YWCA of Honduras. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Krist shares her experience.

YWCA dinner “Young Women Speak Up- Celebrating Our Stories” was an event to share our stories of empowerment with other young people and encourage them to speak up and join the cause. What I got was more than that. How do you explain a feeling which cannot be described? I could say overwhelmed, but that word is not big enough to express it all.

The evening started with a few snacks, juices, wine, mingling and introducing ourselves to new people. As the evening passed, through the music of an amazing chorus, I was asked to speak up and tell my story. What could I say? So as I walked in front of everyone, trying to find my words of what to tell. I knew that even if I am not someone who has experienced at firsthand a heartbreaking or motivational story and even if I live in a country with many disadvantages I’ve never experienced any of them. I have however, known people around me, family, friends, colleagues whose experiences have inspired me to act. Maybe that is why I started my journey of advocacy for young women’s rights, because just standing there and witnessing it is not enough, is not fair, and is not human.

So my “story” was an attempt to express how fascinating meeting my colleagues from the YWCA was, women who have lived through stuff nobody wishes to go through in life, such amazing women who are an example not only to their communities but to humanity. And so I spoke about how being a member of the YWCA is not just being in an organization, but also being part of a family. I’ve been part of previous international events, and it is during this event AIDS2014, it is here in Melbourne that I have come to realize that no matter who you are, what you are and where you are; no matter if you meet people for the first time, the second time or third time, the cozy feeling of being welcomed and being home is something the YWCA is capable of giving. I’m more than thankful for coming, I’m more than glad to meet my colleagues, I am more than honored to be learning from them. Maybe what I am trying to manifest is that I don’t consider myself a motivation for others, but instead an example of what motivation creates, it is the courage of the amazing women I’ve met that gave me a voice to speak against injustice and walk with them.

And so the dinner ended, and we said goodnight, not to my colleagues, not to my friends, but to my wide family, to our YWCA. Thank you for motivating me, thank you making me.

 

Stigma is real

By Sonia Odek, YWCA of Kenya. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Sonia shares her experience.

It was a great to be part of this delegation. I arrived a day later than the other delegates but I had the chance to learn a lot.

Sonia Odek (second from the left) with members from YWCA delegation

Sonia Odek (second from the left) with members from YWCA delegation

One of the speakers at this preconference that made an impact in my life and that I will never forget is a young woman called Cath Smith who shared her story, her journey and her challenges living positively with HIV/AIDS. She contracted the virus from a heterosexual partner who lied to her about his status. The worst part is how her parents and family treated her when they found out about her status. “GOD IS PUNISHING YOU!!!!!” that’s what they said to her.

I have learnt that young people struggle with the same things all over the world. Regardless of which continent you come from, whether white or black, rich or poor. Being young means being judged by the society and the bar raised a little higher. The struggle to live positively is harder for young people since everybody constantly assume that you contracted the virus due to bad habits like having multiple partners or having unprotected sex. This is not always the case and its time that the youth fight to live freely and enjoy their youth whether they are HIV positive or negative.

Stigma is real. It hurts and we cry. The opportunity for great, powerful and courageous young women from the different YWCAs all over the world to share with us their struggles and the amazing things they do in society must be appreciated. I have been challenged to do more in my society. To worker harder and raise awareness because I have realised that there are so many young women who are going through the same things as those shared here but who are not strong enough to share. They fear and they hold back. It takes a lot to speak out.

I am going back to Kenya to inspire, encourage and motivate young women and all youths and to make sure that they don’t suffer a lone. It is time for youths to make life better for themselves. No one can do this for us. We have strong voices, all we have to do is speak and the world will surely listen and as we always say THERE IS NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US.

 

AIDS 2014 Youth Pre-Conference

By Hannah Gissane, YWCA Australia. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Hannah shares her experience.

Youth Force

YWCA Delegates

In the days leading up to the International AIDS Conference, a group of us from the World YWCA delegation attended the International Youth Pre-Conference. In a very sobering start to the Pre-Conference, we learnt of the MH17 tragedy. With the news of 298 deaths including a number of AIDS2014 conference delegates, a dark cloud was cast over the conference. Just how profound this loss was for HIV research, activism and advocacy was encapsulated by Purnima Mane, from Pathfinder, who said “we have lost soldiers in the global fight against AIDS, but we will celebrate their legacy.” After a minute’s silence Alischa Ross, from Melbourne Youth Force, facilitated the biggest group cuddle I’ve ever been in! Around 100 delegates turned to the person on their right for a big cuddle – a soul warming start to a sad day.

The hug really set the tone for a Pre-Conference which would espouse a prevailing theme of Love. The Dove Foundation presented early on in the first day describing their four pillars of HIV action – Education, Treatment, Reform and Love. Love was present in the innate solidarity felt in a room full of people motivated to act. loveThere was something refreshing about recontextualising Love, something we associate with our private lives, and bringing it into a public health and policy discourse. Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court Judge, reflected on this saying “I’ve always thought human rights was grounded in love for one another.”

Bill Nicholson, a Wurundjeri Elder, welcomed Pre-Conference delegates to the Kulin Nation. Bill also spoke to delegates about the devastating impacts of colonialism and land theft on Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; providing a clear picture of the ongoing dispossession and disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in Australia.

Among the many speakers we also heard from Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of the Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa for UNAIDS. Shelia’s tenacity and will as a leader was best captured when talked about her determination to bring levels of transmission down by 90% from 2010 levels; when she was appointed to this role. Sheila spoke about the fact that rates of transmission are declining across every age group except for adolescents. In saying this she reminded us that we are making progress and it is important to remember this. There was no better reminder of this than sitting in that room, full of amazing, passionate young community leaders working hard and making change. Being in that room made me feel like we could achieve anything!

There were numerous interactive training workshops and art projects throughout the two days. Greta Williams (YWCA Australia) and I attended an Advocacy Training Workshop facilitated by Results Australia. The workshop was extremely useful and ran through the EPIC principles for formulating a laser or elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a lightning speed way of advocating to your target politicians and media when you don’t have much time. EPIC stands for Engage, Problem, Inform and Call to Action. Greta formulated a great laser pitch for the World YWCA delegation for our time at AIDS2014 with the aim of raising the profile of young women living positively. You can watch Greta’s pitch here!

The Pre-Conference was successful in creating a space where youth was a valuable qualification; our ideas were listened to and recorded for the International AIDS Conference. I’ll leave you with this from Laura John, Melbourne Youth Force Ambassador, who said “when someone tells me that young people are the future, I politely remind them that I am a leader today!”

 

 

Selfies With A Message: AIDS 2014

By Krist Angela Zicishti, YWCA of Albania. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Krist shares her experience.

Today was the first day of the booth; this is a marketplace whereby different organisations have stalls to share their work. Today seven of us including Greta, YWCA Australia, Krist, YWCA Albania, Sonia, YWCA Kenya, CZ from YWCA India and Lukrecia from YWCA Benin were in charge of manning the booth. It was a bit nerve racking in the beginning because we wanted to represent the YWCA as best as possible and do a great job. Greta had a really good idea to use ‘selfies’ to promote the priorities of the YWCA.

Greta Williams

Greta Williams

But would the idea of Greta be successful?! Recently selfies are popular with everyone.

Selfies everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, Whatapps etc. People use it to show their personality, portrait or take a stand with a cause. So reflecting on this we decided to use selfies for supporting YWCA purposes. A bit sceptical in the beginning, people coming to the booth were different and some people actually hate photos of themselves. But our booth showed the contrary. For 2 hours, 132 people have done selfies supporting #stigmafreefutures and Support women rights.

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Krist Angela Zicishti, Hendrica Okondo and others

 Guess what?! People were happy to do something so awesome and meaningful. Girls were so nice too. Our team was a total polyglot and this also made things easier. Most of the people already were familiar with YWCA, for example a nice woman from Spain said “I was searching for YWCA and I happy you guys are here.” You can imagine our happiness! Another special guest on our booth today was the winner of AIDS design, a very nice young and friendly boy who was very interested about YWCA activities. It was just the first day, and things were really perfect. I hope we will continue like this. Actually no, I am sure we will continue like this. Is there greater joy than having the opportunity to spread our message? To spread our purpose? To see people interested and wishing to help us to do that. We made sure that the following advocacy messages were heard:

  • Ensure comprehensive sexuality education for both in and out of school adolescents, through a holistic and integrated approach which involves parents, teachers and service providers.
  • Ensure the provision of affordable and quality maternal health services, both in urban and rural areas, including HIV prevention and anti-retroviral therapy to safeguard safe pregnancy and delivery.
  • Improve access to voluntary counselling and testing services for women, including young women and marginalised groups, ensuring that these services are: of high-quality, affordable, confidential, accessible without restrictions by age, marital status, and without the requirements of parental/spousal consent.
  • Guarantee women’s safety from violence against women (VAW) and girls by taking legislative and other measures to exercise due diligence in order to prevent, protect, investigate, punish and provide adequate reparations for acts of VAW/G to get a full range of legal, health, social and other related services.
  • Provide youth-friendly SRH services, where spousal/parental consent is not required. These services should be: accessible, affordable, confidential, non-judgmental and without discrimination for all women including married and unmarried women, adolescent girls, young women with disabilities and women living with HIV.

Spread this message with my YWCA sisters, so young, so smart, so fierce…. imagine, it was just the first day.

20th International AIDS Conference

By Marcie Martinez , YWCA of Belize. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. YWCA Australia and the World YWCA held pre-training to the conference. Below Marcie shares her experience.

Delegation

YWCA Delegation

This was the first day spent in Melbourne and it was very exciting. We revised the YWCA strategic framework reminding each other of the 3 priority areas; sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), intergenerational leadership, and movement building.

The ladies shared different stories from their different backgrounds and the kind of work YWCA is doing in their countries. Some of the most striking interventions were for example methods of condom distribution. For discretion others hand them out with the pamphlet whilst others hand them out in target areas e.g. barbershops or salons. Salons are a place where a lot of women commonly meet. These can be used as safe spaces where women meet and discuss their issues. Women who are HIV positive or victims of sexual violation need a bio psychosocial approach in order for them to regroup and plan for their future. As such it is important to have structures in society that support these women and use a multidisciplinary approach.

We need to shift from a needs based approach to a rights based approach. This promotes the fact that young women not only need support in terms of basic needs but skills to empower them to find means of meeting those needs themselves and ability to do more.

Everyone Counts!

By Mtisunge Kachingwe, YWCA of Malawi.

Mtisunge Kachingwe and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, UNICEF Good Will Ambassador

The Partnership for Maternal, New-born & Child Health (PMNCH) is a partnership of 625 organisations from across seven constituencies: governments, multilateral organisations, donors and foundations, non-governmental organisations, healthcare professional associations, academic, research and training institutions and the private sector. Hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and launched in 2005, the vision of the Partnership is the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with women and children enabled to realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health in the year to 2015 and beyond.

Going into the forum I didn’t not know what to expect as it has been not only an opportunity to learn but one to advocate for the adolescent girl and it has left me inspired to act. Amongst all the leaders present there was unity of thought and it had one common goal – to create a better and healthier world for mothers and new-borns around the world particularly for those who are vulnerable and impoverished.

With approximately 500 days left to reach the targets set by the MDG’s, we must go further – with more decisiveness, more strength and more passion – to accelerate progress in this last push and achieve a better future. It was really inspiring to hear various leaders acknowledge that though the MDG’s set the global development agenda there have been successes but gaps still remains, efforts have been insufficient and unequal.

Currently more than 92% of all the world’s maternal deaths, new-born deaths and stillbirths occur within low and middle income countries. Despite substantial progress towards MDGs 4 and 5, 287,000 women died in 2010 of pregnancy related causes. Of these, about 70,000 were adolescents. Approximately, 16 million adolescent girls aged 15-19 and 1 million girls aged 10-14 give birth every year, accounting for 11% of births worldwide. In low- and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 years. For every young woman who dies in childbirth, WHO estimates that, 30-50 others are left with injury, infection or disease. Three and a half million adolescents undergo unsafe abortions every year.Adolescent pregnancy is also closely linked to new-born health. Stillbirths and new-born deaths are 50% higher among infants of adolescent mothers than among infants of women aged 20-29 years and infants of adolescent mothers are more likely to have low birth weight.

Today young people under the age of 30 make up a staggering 40% of the world’s population. As the world continues to deliberate on what happens after the MDG’s one must ask “have young people been involved? And further to this have leaders engaged with youth? Has this been enough?” This year, unlike other years, young people were a part of the discussions and contributions fostered by the forum. The messages I took home with me were; we need to do more as young people to push our governments at a national level so that when member states convene to discuss the post 2015 development agenda our county representatives are carrying our views

As young leaders we need to hold our governments accountable for their commitments launch impressive communications campaigns for sexual and reproductive health and rights and implement projects in our communities. I believe that all community members including young people should be involved in policy, from the ground up. After that first step the process can then expand to involve donors. Let’s all stand up today and say No to the infringement of people’s rights, No to inequity, No to discrimination, No to exploitation, and Yes to a more just and equitable world, built by each and every one of us. Because after all everyone counts.

 

 

Beijing+ who? And 2015 what?

By Kgothatso Mokoena, YWCA of South Africa.

My engagement with the African Union Summit

2014 has been a hectic time, for development activists, with all current development frameworks ending in 2015, noting the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and celebrating 20 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Similarly the international community now is focused on UN mechanisms, Post 2015 development framework and while the African Union (AU) is encouraging member states to align with Agenda 2063 aspirations.

Kgothatso Mokoena

Kgothatso Mokoena

The world is now at the cusp of progress, accountability and inclusion. The tapestry of development language is weaved with the language of human rights. But practice…is NOT! My observations at the African Union and the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) consultation Forum has caused me to be concerned that although we have such good frameworks, our leaders are still hesitant to get their feet wet.

As individuals, communities and countries begin to understand what human rights means to them, it becomes vital to place women and girls at the very heart of all these processes. Twenty years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), member states committed to support sexual and reproductive health rights of all women and girls. The result was a definitive programme of action that would compel countries, for the next two decades to focus on equality, empowerment of women, reproductive health, sustainable development and growth.

As I followed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and Post 2015 Agenda negotiations, I am frustrated to see governments still arguing without logic that eradication of poverty and unemployment programmes are not constrained by negative reproductive health outcomes. I simply can not comprehend why any country would believe that a population, with a high level of teenage pregnancies and young women and girls who are forced to marry early and are unhealthy or neglected in terms of access to health facilitates would not be considered a major sustainable development issue.

Today, we no longer look at poverty as we did 20 years ago. It’s not just an income figure but a view that any circumstance which deprives one of health, education, and living conditions is poverty. That’s right; health is actually a condition that determines poverty!! In the African region, 3900 child brides live in this dire situation.

Group Photo

YWCA AU Delegation

The post 2015 development agenda must be based on human rights framework; it should commit to the gender equality goal as a standalone and must include clear commitments to young women and girls. This is a non-negotiable for us and billions of women around the world. Indeed women’s agency, voice and leadership are crucial and core to meeting the aspirations of development as stated in the AU Agenda 2063.

In the words of my good friend and youth advocate Ramya Kudekallu, “We want sexual and reproductive health rights to be considered as life itself, because the origin of all human life is (shockingly) sex. The point countless community and health workers, researchers, doctors, activists and civil society organisations are trying to get at is that every aspect of sexual health and well being is deeply connected with a nations’ well being. Sexual and reproductive health rights is allowing people, man or woman, young or old, or any race or any creed to better engage in decisions concerning their bodies, gender and relationships.”

So Beijing+ who? Beijing+20, you! MGD…who? Post 2015 Agenda…..about you! Engage now!

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