“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.