Looking back on AIDS 2010 Conference

Ravicka Phillip, World YWCA intern 2010

By: Ravicka Phillip, World YWCA intern 2010

The International AIDS Conference is the first conference dedicated to HIV and AIDS that I’ve attended.  Going into the conference, though I was briefed, I was still a bit uncertain of what really will come from such a meeting or what the experience will be like. Now that I’ve gotten the experience I feel more informed about certain issues, but at the same time I also feel that I have many questions.

My participation at this conference has made me realise how the HIV pandemic has brought a lot of issues to the forefront that cross both social and in some cases moral boundaries.  It has left me wondering what is really needed to bring an end to this pandemic and to curve the spread of the virus. Is it the church that is responsible, is it the donors or is it the responsibility of infected and affected persons. The conference has also made me realise that there is a lot of blame being passed from different groups, whereas to me it seemed as though everyone had a common goal but may have just been taking different routes to get there.  It has also motivated me to do some research relating to my country, Grenada, as certain questions aroused while I participated to some sessions and I realised I didn’t have an answer. For example, how accessible are ARVs for people living with HIV and what are the laws relating to criminalisation.

The most interesting session that I attended was “Gender Discrimination: Sex and Stigma.”  This was the very first session that I attended and I thought it was very informative and lived up to the expectations one may have had before attending the session. I learnt about the “The People Living with HIV Stigma Index,” a tool which is used to measure stigma and also detect trends relating to stigma and discrimination while showing the barriers and issues which cause stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV (PLWH) to continue.

It was also good that one of the first countries to use the Index, the Dominican Republic was from my region and though they speak a different language and their cultural norms may vary, the issues presented from the  findings reflected issues that are common to many of the Islands within the Caribbean including my own. These included discrimination by health care providers, forced sterilization and women living with HIV being told that they shouldn’t get pregnant. Gender based violence, though not a component of the stigma index, also came up and it was thought that it should be included in the index as it contributes to stigma and discrimination against HIV positive women.  Some of the other issues brought to the spotlight included the need for further education with regards to the empowerment of women and informing them about their reproductive rights. Also, educating the health care providers so as to guarantee their understanding and acknowledgement of the reproductive rights of women, especially those who are living with HIV, and to have mechanisms in place to monitor services for PLWH.

I was happy that Grenada had a great representation at the conference and I got to meet the team, including the Minister of Health.  Though no formal partnerships were formed I think that the fact that we were all present at the AIDS conference and met creates a potential to work together in the future.

Coming from this conference I would like to continue working with the HIV and AIDS committee of the YWCA of Grenada to do some revisions of the programmes and messages that we presently use, incorporating the knowledge gained, and building collaborations with other organisations.

Issues in HIV and AIDS in Central and Eastern Europe – A perspective from Romania

By: Andreea Lancu, President of the National YWCA of Romania

The delegation of the YWCA is here, present at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. This Conference who’s aim is to unite people from all over the world in the response to HIV and AIDS  and  the promotion of human rights for everybody, no matter where they are from, their culture, their beliefs and their personality. The main motto of the Conference is “RIGHTS HERE, RIGHT NOW”!!!

The AIDS 2010 Conference is made up of sessions, workshops, programmes activities and exhibitions presented by representatives that have come from all over the world and from all continents.

I am here as a regional member of the YWCA from Romania and I am the only one from Europe. As a result I was very interested to participate in the sessions that concerned my geographical area, but also to find out more about the issues, problems and situations in sessions that described the situation in other parts of the world.

In Europe, especially Eastern and Central Europe, the HIV and AIDS  situation is not very good. The epidemic for women, and also for men, is closely related to the following:

  • Poverty and low investment in Eastern and Central European countries leads to an increase in the number of migrants that go to work in other countries in search of a better life. It also increases the number of sex workers and the number of young people injecting drugs.
  • People are NOT getting tested for HIV. Limited access to HIV testing and counseling will and is having an impact on early treatment and the prevention of further transmission of HIV.
  • Lack of access to treatment. There is not enough support from the Government, and the cost of treatment is high.
  • There is an increase in the number of men having sex with men (MSM).
  • Cultural attitudes, the church and governments (for example in Poland and Ukraine), do not support sex education and there is limited access to information for young people.
  • In many countries there is not enough funding from donors.

In Romania, all the problems that I have mentioned above are contributing to the increase of young people living with HIV. The most pressing issue is: “DONORS DECLINING SUPPORT FOR PROGRAMMES” (for example in Lithuania), either prevention programmes or support and treatment programmes.

To conclude, as an Non Governmental Organisation that is fighting for this cause, we should:

  • Advocate more
  • Find opportunities in the financial crisis and engage more people in the response to HIV.
  • Focus on programmes that are sustainable
  • Uphold European beliefs in health as a basic human right.

Make the difference:  “RIGHTS HERE, RIGHT NOW!”

Young Women’s Voice: Exploring the notion of Safe Space

Fasika Waltengus

Fasika Waltengus, Programme Coordinator and working on HIV and AIDS  at the YWCA of Ethiopia, took part in the panel of the World YWCA Satellite Session ‘Wanted: Comprehensive Solutions for All Women at the XVIII International AIDS Conference. Through her presentation, Fasika explores the meaning of Safe Space for women and girls.

“All women define their ‘world’ in different ways. It is the private spaces of family in homes, bedrooms and kitchens. These intimate spaces should offer love, care, and support, as well as nurture the full potential of every person.  Yet too often, these private spaces are where women and girls experience domestic violence, abuse or neglect. It is also the place where women and girls, often unknowingly contract HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In my speech today, I want to look at the ways how we can create ‘safe spaces’ for women, young women and girls. But first let’s look at what safe space means?

The notion of ‘being safe’ speaks to the enjoyment of universal human rights and being free from stigma and discrimination.  It is about enabling women, especially young women, to make decisions about their lives, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive choices such as sexuality, decisions about marriage and the number and spacing of children.

Creating ‘Safe Spaces’ can serve as a fundamental building block for women and girls’ empowerment activities.  The YWCA in Ethiopia – an affiliate of the World YWCA, has engaged itself over the years in creating safe spaces for diverse groups of women regardless of age, ethnicity, social background and HIV status. These safe spaces are cross-cutting interventions, laced in to all the different projects.

Let me share with you some of our history regarding women and girls in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian tradition turned its back on women a long time ago and this is still the situation. Most women in Ethiopia, as in most other African countries, are oppressed and denied a range of rights such as the right to education and employment opportunities, gender equality, economic security, self expression and social connection. All of this has caused vulnerability to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.  Most community women who are working and are preoccupied with domestic household choirs, that are labor intensive and this is almost always expected and a thankless job.   I remember all the women in my family saying “A woman’s work is never done”. Thus, many women are subjected to become unpaid working moms in their homes. This often diminishes their self esteem as they lose incite to the outside world. In turn, this makes them even more vulnerable to being economic dependant on their partners.  In the same way, girls suffer both physically and socio-economically from lack of safety, privacy, and self expression. From our work we have seen that young women and girls lack private spaces even in their homes as they try to deal with menstruation and sanitation secretly.

So how can we create safe spaces?

In the YWCA of Ethiopia we have been able to raise the voices of young women to make decisions about their lives. We have done this through creating leadership. We have developed leadership through female football teams, summer youth volunteers groups, peer educators, self help groups for women and university gender clubs that address reproductive choices and negotiation skills.

This translates into more developed emotional intelligence and in effect, young women have more control over their own lives and are more effective leaders in their homes and in their communities. The perfect example of this would be our peer educators working in our HIV prevention program. These volunteering young women have proved to be better leaders in the eyes of their peers because of the knowledge they gained on life skills that enhanced their roles as young women leading change.

The second way of creating safe spaces is to create opportunity for young women and girls to have friends. These would enable them to discuss challenges and opt for solutions. Having friends to talk to is something that many of us take for granted. The YWCA female footballers are one of the best examples. These footballers are vulnerable children most of whom are orphans, and bread winners for their families. These girls live in city slum areas, having nothing to look forward to and nothing that inspires them. Through the YWCA, these children formed a female football team. This sport provided a safe space to discuss openly and freely how to overcome peer pressure. As a result, the girls now utilize the sport to discuss serious life challenges.  They have developed friendships which offer solidarity and support. Through the process, the girls have become assertive and created life goals and now have hope for a brighter future.

The third strategy is building knowledge and awareness. In our work we see that young domestic house workers are migrating from rural parts of Ethiopia to escape early marriage. These young women who work in homes as domestic workers are controlled by their employees. I call these employees the ‘gate keepers’. We provide training opportunities with both the young women and the gate keeps separately to build their knowledge on violence, coercion, peer pressure and sanitation for the benefit of the young women that are employed. No one should stand in the way of someone’s growth and enjoyment of human rights.  We see that often women oppress women because they don’t know any better.

This training and dialogue has been beneficial in ensuring young women have informal education during the day creating a safe space where they come in groups and build a social network.

The fourth way is to create safe spaces to ensure that young women and girls have female role models. Young women and girls are influenced by the people they are exposed to. We all need heroes to look up to and so do young women. We have done this through mentorship programs. The YWCA strongly promotes mentor-mentee match in most of its programmes. For instance, we link up urban secondary school students with university students in exchange programs organised for this purpose.  This has showed increased motivation in their school attainment.

I want to stress that the creation of safe spaces for women and girls is the least expensive intervention technique that can be used, but the most significant way to make positive contributions in the lives of everyone, especially the disadvantaged and underserved women and girls.

I will conclude by saying that all women are entitled to live in safety and security, regardless of their HIV status, age, creed, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability or ethnicity.”

América Latina, comencemos a caminar – Latin America, start walking

Vicky Rojas Araya

By: Vicky Rojas Araya

This is a reflection piece from a young member of the YWCA of Valparaíso, Chile and is part of the World YWCA delegation at the Conference in Vienna.

Esta es una reflexión proveniente de una joven miembro de la YWCA de Valparaíso, Chile, que participe en la Conferencia Internacional de SIDA 2010.

La Conferencia Internacional de SIDA del 2010 sin duda dejará una indeleble marca en mi, no sólo por todo lo que he aprendido sobre diferentes aspectos involucrados en la prevención, tratamiento, cuidado y apoyo relacionado al tema del VIH/SIDA, sino también por encontrarme con “el mundo”, con la diversidad, con las culturas, con los lenguajes. Pareciera que una muestra aleatoria del planeta se encontrara todos los días entre  esas paredes, y sobre todo en la colorida Aldea Global (diversa y respetuosa de esa cualidad).

Sin embargo, entre tantas luces y colores, me preguntaba que pasaba con mi región, con Latinoamérica, y es que cuando te encuentras con el mundo, los procesos identitarios no sólo se encuentran con tu país, sino con aquellos que representan una cultura similar, con quienes compartimos una historia y hablamos la misma lengua.  Y era a esta región a la que buscaba, quería saber qué pasaba con la gente que la conformamos, pero aparecían solo goteras,  y ninguna articulada entre sí.

Ante este escenario llegue a la Sesión Regional de América Latina, fue un tremendo agrado entrar y escuchar mi idioma, me sentí como en casa, y a medida que las exposiciones se desarrollaban confirmaba que somos una sola región, a la vez que compartimos culturas e idiomas, compartimos también problemas.

Claramente, como dijo  uno de los relatores “somos demasiado pobres para sentarnos en las mesas que tienen poder de decisión mundial, pero demasiado ricos para recibir ayuda internacional”, lo que crea una sensación de injusticia, que se suma la sentencia mencionada por otra relatora,  respecto a que “somos la región más inequitativa del planeta”; y quienes estábamos presentes no lo sabemos por datos estadísticos, lo sabemos porque lo vemos cada día, y lo sentimos en nuestros pueblos. Todo esto sumado a la violencia de género, a la corrupción en manejos presupuestarios a niveles gubernamentales, a las políticas conservadoras en materia de salud sexual, y al estigma y discriminación que enfrentan los HSH, LGBT y trabajadores/as sexuales, hace que los derechos humanos de toda la población se vean afectados (no sólo de las PVVIH sino también de todos quienes vivimos en estas tierras).

Ante tal panorama, ¿qué es lo que se puede hacer?.  Los relatores expusieron diversos caminos, todos para mi gusto, necesarios y urgentes, como actuar a nivel legislativo y asegurar derechos sexuales y reproductivos en la población, protección legal a temáticas relacionadas al VIH/SIDA y Salud Sexual, asegurar una sanidad presupuestaria, trabajar respecto al estigma y discriminación, y abogar por la no criminalización de la transmisión del VIH/SIDA. Sin embargo, como miembro de una organización de la sociedad civil, llamo mi atención el llamado a la unión, a la formación de redes entre todos quienes trabajamos en pro de estos objetivos, ya que en la medida en que somos capaces de reunirnos, seremos capaces de visibilizar la urgencia de estos temas ante la región y el mundo.

Sin duda una meta que no quiere esperar….parece que nuestros pies quieren comenzar a caminar…

Comenzamos a caminar

“What a diverse group: Women!”

Hoda El Mankabady

By Hoda El Mankabady, from the YWCA of Egypt.  Hoda is one the young women of the YWCA delegation at the Conference in Vienna.

The 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna, with the theme – “Women’s Rights Here – Women’s Rights Now,” held a session on Monday morning: “Our Bodies… Our Rights: Young Women’s Forum on SRHR”,

The objective of the session was to (i) create a safe space to speak openly about SRHR (ii) make the link between SRHR & HIV clear and (iii) create the opportunity to develop clear messages on the subject matter.

The session was quite interactive and engaged the whole audience. It started off with an inter-generational introduction and discussion around why SRHR is important to each one of the participants. It was moderated by our own Sophie Dilmitis, together with another colleague from the World AIDS Campaign.

Many SRHR issues came out of the dialogue, showing the diversity of both the participants as well as the issue. The creation of a safe space to talk about SRHR was one of the issues, young women’s reproductive care another, women with disabilities living with HIV and their access to services, women in prison living with HIV, etc…

After a rich discussion with the active audience, groups were divided by theme and were asked to develop 5 key messages to get across whenever possible and integrate them as an outcome document. The themes were (i) Safe Space (ii) Migrants (iii) Disabilities (iv) Choice (v) Lesbian women and (vi) Sexual Education. The groups were then asked to present their messages. Some of the strong messages were:

  • Honour my choices and give me options to make healthy decisions
  • Domestic violence does exist in lesbian households
  • Call for acceptable, accessible, adaptable, non biased and comprehensive sexual education
  • Disable women are sexual beings too
  • Safe spaces need to be created and initiated by young women for young women
  • SRHR policies need to be translated from paper to people
  • Migrant workers face double stigma

The session was an eye opener. We always talk about women and girls and their SRHR. But this was the first time I realised how diverse the women’s group is. And not just that, but every sub-group of the women’s group has different needs and wants, different messages and different calls for action. It is interesting to try and develop an approach to address all the needs of these groups.

I am looking forward to attending more of these interactive sessions as they not only create a safe space for discussing “taboo” issues, but also allow for inter-generational dialogue, as well as encourage young women to share their ideas and thoughts about issues they may have not had the chance to talk about before.

Strengthening Religious Leaders Responses to HIV


Prepared by Sophie Dilmitis World YWCA SRHR and HIV and AIDS Coordinator on the occasion of the Multi-Faith Pre Conference for the Breakout Session : “Together We Can Do More: Strengthening religious leaders in the response to HIV”

Where is leadership missing, where could it make a difference?

Religious leaders and faith based organisations play a vital role – where sometimes actions speak louder than words and words, that are so powerful, can make or break a person’s life.  I spoke in Mexico, two years ago at the Ecumenical Pre Conference about this topic and in my presentation I started by asking a few questions.

I asked what is it that makes one infected person lead a responsible, healthy, productive life and another not?  What makes a person get tested, accept their status and do something about it and be proactive about their health and another not?

I would like to share with you a personal story.  About a week ago my husband and I had a friend over to stay with us.  She works in Zimbabwe and is supported by a church in Geneva to offer support to people living with HIV, orphans and vulnerable children and is doing the most wonderful work – especially as a messenger of God who is really supporting people in need.  We were all sitting together discussing the project with the church that was supporting. It had been a very rich dialogue that ended in prayer.

As she was praying she mentioned that people really need to be healed and that God Hates AIDS.  I was very surprised by this statement but I did not say anything.  I looked around the room and people were nodding in agreement. There were a number of religious leaders in the room and no one else, except my husband and I seemed surprised by this statement.  I was very angry but I waited until we got home to speak to her about how I was feeling.

I confronted her and said that as a person living with HIV – I found this statement very damaging and I absolutely did not believe it to be true.  Further more I do not believe that the word ‘hate’ belongs to God. I explained that the God that I know is a god of love and does not hate anything, especially HIV which is just a virus.

The argument continued and she said that death and disease were not part of God’s plan – this was before Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden of Eden, which changed life as it was meant to be for us.  In that moment we became mortal.

After a long discussion she understood why it was wrong to say this and how damaging that would be for someone living with HIV to hear that God hates what is living inside their body.  If a person is living with HIV – we have to do what we can to co exist with this virus. We cannot hate what is alive and well inside our bodies.  I know this as I have been living with HIV for 16 years.

Through conversations like this – I am beginning to understand not only theology but also why some of these messages are very complex for religious leaders. Religious leaders are already overwhelmed with how to address human rights in the AIDS response and how to address HIV through a lens that is not moralistic and value based.

So to answer my own question, what we need today is to ensure that people, especially religious and community leaders have the right messaging.  We all have to make sure that this happens. I think what we are missing today is dialogue between religious leaders and people living with HIV who are activists and part of the AIDS response. I was so lucky to be in that room so that I could explain why what she was saying would have been so damaging to a person living with HIV.  I was so happy to be there as an empowered person to say this is how PLHIV might interpret what you just said.  Sometimes being well intentioned is not enough.

To me this is the kind of leadership that is missing and what could make a huge difference – we need to be able to speak to each other and explain what messages are damaging, why and what could be said instead that would still support the word of the God of life and love as well as people living with HIV.

So I really wanted to offer this personal experience for today’s discussions.

I think what could make a difference is dialogue.  Dialogue that needs to start on the premise that we don’t know it all, we can and should always be learning from each other, that our differences in our faith and diversity should be seen as a gift and not a barrier.  We should start with the premise that we need to be able to dialogue respectfully to change what we can.  As activists we need to be able to have the wisdom to know what we can and cannot change in our own lives, in our messaging and in the AIDS response.

Globally religious leaders and faith-based organisations are responding to HIV and in many countries they are providing the bulk of the health care and access to ARVs – this is something that we do not take for granted. We just need to ensure that the messaging supports the services and this is where we still need more work.

Reflections on the Youth Force Pre-Conference

By Rachel Bowley, YWCA of Aotearoa New Zealand and Florencia Fernandez, YWCA of Uruguay

On July 13, 2010 we both arrived separately at the Bringittenau Youth Hostel in Vienna, Austria in the middle of a European heat wave. It was hot and sticky, there was no air-conditioning and the bedroom windows would not open. However, the energy was high and the venue overflowing with youth activists ready to ´Make it Happen´ and to discuss young people’s involvement and commitment to HIV and AIDS education, prevention and awareness at the International AIDS Conference 2010.

After locating the YWCA girls and navigating the Wien underground train system, we arrived at the Youth Force Pre-Conference at the Medical University of Vienna on 14 July 2010.  It was overwhelming to be surrounded by the diverse youth delegates who displayed such energy and commitment to the cause, and who hailed from over 90 different countries.

While our home countries of Uruguay and New Zealand are far apart and separated by several oceans, we were surprised to find out that our YWCAs shared similar challenges in relation to HIV and AIDS education and awareness.

Individually, we both identified the need to explore education and prevention opportunities for the YWCAs of our countries while we attended the pre-conference.  We found the workshops on Peer Education most interesting, as this was a strategy and HIV and AIDS education and programming opportunity that neither of us had heard of before.

On Tuesday July 15, 2010, Y-Peer held a workshop, ´Peer Education Strategies´, which defined Peer Education and explained the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. A second workshop held on Wednesday 16 July explored Peer Education in more depth, by sharing Y-Peer´s Peer Education Standards Checklist. This is a standardised checklist which can assist organisations such as the World YWCA in establishing, assessing and sustaining peer education programmes in our local communities.

A presentation on ´Evaluation and Improvement of HIV and AIDS Peer Education Projects´ by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMSA) supported the Y-Peer presentations. IFMSA provided us with an overview of how to conduct statistical, results-based research on Peer Education programmes, to assist with funding proposals and to provide evidence of knowledge, attitudinal and behavioural change in our communities.

We are both inspired and motivated to find out more about Peer Education while at the main conference, and hope to bring back examples of successful Peer Education projects to the YWCA´s of Uruguay and New Zealand.

As the YouthForce Pre-Conference slogan states, we are ready to ´MAKE IT HAPPEN´ and educate the young women in our communities on HIV and AIDS.

More about the Vienna Youth Force AIDS 2010 Youth Pre-Conference