Faith Inspired Sexuality

By Rebecca Phwitiko, World YWCA Board Member

Rebecca as part of the World YWCA delegation to AIDS 2012 in Washington, DC shares her reflections on faith and sexuality:

In one of my favourite books on HIV and AIDS, ’28 stories of AIDS in Africa’ Stephanie Nolen says the reason why HIV and AIDS still remains a challenge is that its transmission preys on our most intimate moments. And so sitting in the workshop on young people sexuality and faith in the context of HIV during the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV, I felt the truth of these words.

Rebecca Phwitiko

A research by John Blevins of the Rollins School of Public Health (Emory University) finds that religion does not feed into the sexual values and activities of most young people. This I didn’t find surprising at all. But then what I found to be amazing was that there are still a lot of young people out there asking critical questions about their faith as it relates to sexuality, what does it mean that Solomon had many wives for instance?

So in my mind this is a vital opening for the faith community. There is a great need among young for more open conversations with their faith leaders about their sexuality, particularly in the context of HIV. Even in the most conservative communities, HIV has taken sex and all that comes with it to the public space. There is no longer the luxury of saying what I do with my partner, how I protect myself is a taboo subject. Sometimes these uncomfortable conversations can ‘postpone’ a new risk of exposure to HIV.

We live in an age where 61 percent of all new HIV infections are among young women, particularly in Africa. Religious entities are uniquely positioned to respond to HIV because they are pervasive and dynamic.

Churches, mosques, traditional religions, are at the heart of African society. Faith organisations need to understand the powerful entity that they can be in addressing public health issues such as the sexual and reproductive health of young women.

It is a great injustice when young women are denied their rights to sexuality education and services. And who can better champion the rights of a marginalized group, our young women, than the people that teach us about compassion, love and peace. Unfortunately the faith community has had difficulties in addressing sexuality in HIV prevention, reproductive health, family planning, and women’s empowerment. Religion has often been a barrier, and efforts to mobilise religion as a positive force for addressing these issues need to be strengthened. It is time to overcome injustices and ensure that AIDS responses improve the lives of women and girls.

The Collective Voice of our Generation: AIDS 2012

As the 19th International Conference on AIDS continues two inspiring young women from the YWCA share their reflections:

Jenna Lodge from YWCA USA 

Jenna Lodge

For the last 2 days, the young women of the World Delegation have heard presentations from world-renowned speakers, top HIV/AIDS research analysts and victorious individuals thriving with HIV.  Their statements are profound and their testimonies were filled with courage and hope.  But what stands out the most was an impromptu conversation had by six young women taking a rest between sessions.  In our reflections of the different speakers, we all had a common desire to want the conversations and presentations to “go there.” it seemed as if the speaker’s words carried a hint of “fluff” instead of getting to the real, hard-pressed issues that we all longed to hear about.  In that moment of honesty amongst the six of us, we all vowed to take a stand throughout the week and ask questions that “go there.” The 25 million women and girls that we represent around the world demand more than a rosy façade of an issue that deserves real solutions for treatment, overall support for individuals that identify as positive, and prevention strategies for communities around the world.

As the delegation moves toward the opening of the 19th International AIDS conference, we must remember to address the concerns of young women and girls that we present around the world.  We must remember to create an atmosphere of acceptance over stigma and a keen sense of curiosity and learning over judgment.  We will stand in solidarity in sessions and workshops to make our collective voice be heard.  By the end of the conference, our goal is for all 21,000 participants to remember the confident young women leaders of the World YWCA that stood up and asked the hard questions and got real answers and solutions for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

Marcie Martinez from the YWCA of Belize

Being able to represent World YWCA and YWCA Belize at AIDS 2012 is a great privilege. Since the time I have reach Washington I have been overwhelmed with all that has been happening. The conference is an international conference that is hosting thousands of delegates from around the world. Therefore the opportunity to meet and network is great. On Friday the 20thof July we started to participate in sessions that highlighted the work that is being done all over the world in regards to HIV. I believe that many people are really doing great work in the fight against HIV. However, I do believe that we all are missing something in this fight because the numbers for new infections are still very high. There is still so much to be done, even in my country. Everyday having been in Washington, I am learning that HIV is affecting humanity everywhere but at the end of the day we are working in unity to tackle HIV.

Marcie Martinez

Also, meeting and being able to work with the other YWCA delegates has made being able to participate in AIDS 2012 much manageable. I am very impressed with the YWCA delegation because they are dynamic leaders who are very passionate about making change in their communities. I have been enjoying my days getting to know these amazing women. We have been participating in marches and attending sessions that are highlighting the issues that have been arising around HIV. We also had the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Jen Schakowsky who represents the district of Illinois. She is an amazing woman who is passionate about women’s right. We were all excited about sitting with her and sharing what the different countries in the YWCA delegation are doing in the area of HIV.

Great things happening in Washington right now!