Kuribachew Kebede of YWCA of Ethiopia shares her thoughts on Youth Leadership at ICASA:
During ICASA we learnt how change does not happen by accident, it happens by collective action. It is important to have solidarity with women and girls living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. There is a common ground in most countries in Africa, i.e., women living with HIV experience particular forms of stigma and discrimination, especially in relation to our perceived or actual roles as mothers and carers. There needs to be immediate passage and implementation of laws to stop stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, and other key affected women, and for awareness rising around mechanisms to secure justice in the event of human right violations. It makes me delighted to see many unprecedented successes in the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS. During a workshop, ‘Youth Leadership in response to AIDS’, we as African youth came together and discussed issues of common interest and concern in relation to HIV prevention, control and stigma. Although we have made some progress in parts of the continent, Sub – Saharan Africa still has the highest prevalence rate in the world. In order to throw this fact into the dust bin of history once and for all, the youth in Africa has a huge responsibility as well as capacity to halt and even reverse the spread of the virus across the continent. By the youth coming together to mobilise and share ideas we believe we can indeed achieve the zero discrimination, zero new HIV infections, and zero new HIV related deaths targeted at the Global level. With this regard, I can proudly testify the success of the YWCA – Ethiopia in its intervention towards addressing Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS. The YWCA Ethiopia strives hard to provide and promote adequate information about SRHR and AIDS related issues to young women across the country. Furthermore, ICASA has created the space for young people to be empowered. When people are informed and have their capacity built through information, they will be empowered and take the responsibility to handle their own affairs. Moreover, community leadership is integral to the response to HIV and AIDS; only through taking ownership at every level within societies will we see true transformation. The theme of ‘owning’ really rang true during this session as we began to claim our space in playing a lead role in the future of Africa.
Elizabeth Butegwa of YWCA of Uganda shares her thoughts on the impact ICASA has made on her:
Having grown up in mostly urban areas my entire life, in and out of Africa, I always considered myself to be well versed on HIV and AIDS as well as SRHR. Something as simple as our culture can affect not only the spread of HIV but gender based violence as well. Forced Marriages, female circumcision, unsafe male circumcision and rituals, are all present in our African culture and simple changes or eradication of some of these practices could be the difference between life and death. In addition to this, the role of family in responding to the long term effects of the epidemic is real and substantial. Throughout ICASA there was a lot of emphasis on the role the youth can play in the response to AIDS. One truly remarkable thing, I felt, was how much power the youth has over this epidemic. All the facts and figures we were given show clearly how big an impact the youth can make if we were more involved, more active and practiced safer behaviour really. Not getting drunk or taking drugs is something that could drastically change the outcomes. Using condoms, going for tests, are not hard things to do but its mind boggling to think how much this is not done and yet, you would think it would be obvious. What is it then? Am I different from all the other youth in Africa? These were the questions I asked myself throughout this meeting and this is my answer. In many ways, I am like a number of youth in Africa today. We have been brought up in cities, we have travelled around the world, and we have been educated at the best schools. However, the simple fact is as all this is happening, our actual world is getting smaller, we no longer think about the people who do not have our lifestyle, our educational background, the advantages in our lives that we don’t even see anymore. I can honestly say before this experience, my world didn’t consist of whether or not I had access to SRH services because I just did. Pregnancy didn’t scare me because in my mind, I would have the support I need. Cultural practices were not even a blip on my radar because I’m my own person. Never did I actually stop and think about how much all these things I take for granted are actually life and death decisions to someone else. It was truly humbling and life changing. It made me realize how much of a bubble I was living in. One, I never want to revisit.