The World YWCA participated in the 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA 2011) in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Marta Guimaraes from the YWCA of Angola and Jennifer Mbise from the YWCA of Tanzania participated in the Inter-generational Dialogue on SRHR and HIV at ICASA, they share with us their thoughts and discussions during the event.
During the inter-generational dialogue on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV we discussed the
role of men in eliminating violence against women. It can be difficult to involve men directly when working with survivors of violence as women need a safe space and more often than not feel uncomfortable when men are present. This is evident when we look at the low rates at which young women are accessing youth centers when compared to boys. Thus, creating a problem as in many cases these young women would be accessing information on SRHR in youth centers, however if they do not access the youth centers they will not receive the relevant (if any) information. Therefore, we need to find creative ways to reach out to these vulnerable young women, in most communities culture determines accessibility of information on these issues so it’s important to address the traditional leaders and use their influence to change how the community responds to HIV and AIDS and promotes SRHR. It was identified that this gap in information is a shared problem across generations. We can all too easily blame our mothers for not sharing adequate SRHR information with us, when in fact they often do not have the information themselves. In this respect, education around these issues must be implemented and promoted at all levels from schools, youth centers, churches, clinics, health centers and re-enforced by government policies. Furthermore, we think that services for SRHR and HIV need to be integrated so that they are all in one place instead of people having to go to several different places, which creates more problems and health centers should effectively meet the needs of HIV positive people as well as participating in prevention initiatives.
Although, traditionally across many African communities men fail to co-operate in recognizing SRHR for women, this does not mean they should not be part of the conversation because in order to prevent violence and promote gender equality men and women should work together. In Zambia 80% of rural women believe violence is justified if a woman upsets her husbands for example, if she refuses to have sex or ‘lets’ the food get cold. It’s like this saying in a certain tribe in Tanzania, “If your husband doesn’t beat you, it means he doesn’t love you”. During the inter-generational dialogue we talked about this for some time discussing how violence against women is viewed as the norm and we truly think that it’s appalling, tragic and unacceptable. For us personally the magnitude of embedded tolerance towards violence against women really hits home when even educated women within our own communities accept and fail to advocate on these issues. It is a known fact that women who are abused are more at risk of contracting HIV. UNAIDS has the goal of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths therefore SRHR information and HIV prevention training needs to accessible to all and not treated as a taboo. Furthermore, African leaders should come together to demand the respected funds that Western governments agreed to contract to respond HIV and AIDS. Apparently, what they would ask for over three years is equal to US military spending for one day. A lot of funding comes from external sources however due to the global economic crisis we now need to find effective ways to increase domestic funding for HIV prevention and treatment.