Faith Brings Women Together

By Sylvia John, YWCA of Papua New Guinea, was part of the World YWCA Delegation attending AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.

The YWCA of Papua New Guinea is a faith-based organisation working as part of the community response to HIV. The YWCA nurtures young women’s leadership in the community and brings women together. YWCA creates safe spaces for women to talk and act. In my community in Papua New Guinea, faith brings women together. Together we are guided by our collective spirituality.

I know God is looking after me and has a plan for me and my community. He gives me the strength to look after my peers. He is with me on my journey. There are some women living with HIV who don’t believe it, but we are all truly children of God. God is with us and is guiding us. He is looking after all of us no matter who you are. He has no judgement. I feel like I am working with God when there is no one beside me.

It is my heart’s desire to start a refuge in Port Moresby for positive women. During the AIDS2014 conference, I took another step in that journey and met with a representative from a global health program who will meet me in Port Morseby in three weeks time to talk about how we can progress this idea and make it a reality. I have been able to advocate for this project because of YWCA. YWCA will always be there to support women as leaders, creating safe spaces like my idea for a positive women’s refuge. It has supported me and now I can support other women.


Contextual Bible Study Seminar in Nigeria

By Sarah Samson Choji, YWCA of Nigeria

In our society today, young people constitute almost 40-45% of the overall population of our nation. With this large number, there’s a need to harness and invest in this group of able, energetic and lively people to bring about sustainable growth in our economy-through enlightenment and bringing to awareness vital issues that concerns them, especially in decisions they make in their life time. “Contextual Bible Study and everyday choices of a young person” was the theme for this one day seminar which was sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) which seeks to improve and change some negative behavior and attitude that young people seem to inculcate due to the norms of our societal values such assarah traditions, cultural and religious beliefs. Contextual bible study is the study of the bible in its own context in an interactive way, sharing the context of the reader and the context of the bible into dialogue and also to raise awareness and transformation. This seminar therefore, intends to challenge young people especially boys and the menfolk in general to change and correct certain behaviors and self-centered attitudes that pose a threat to the health and mental state of children, girls, young women and women in the society, thereby encouraging our male counterparts to be better men, husbands, fathers, lovers and brothers in the society that not only protect but see that harmful practices and attitudes that degrade women are erased and inculcating positive behavior that will foster peace and harmony in our community and also give room for women to contribute positively to the society at large. It is in view of the foregoing that young people were drawn from various youth based NGOs, health community, religious society, ministry of women affairs, ministry of youth and development and individuals that have the young people at heart to deliberate on various issues that concerns this large populace. Looking at the issues; gender based violence, HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality and reproductive health rights, these are issues that are labelled as “women issues” because most of the caring and activism has been done by women. Men are rarely seen in the picture in the fight against such issues therefore we are urging religious leaders and men to make sexual and gender based violence and HIV “human issues”. At this seminar, contextual bible study was used as a tool to challenge men to have a fresh look at their responsibilities. We are convinced that this responsibilities have become more even more urgent in the struggle against sexual and gender based violence and HIV. We contend that by mobilizing boys, young men and men, religious communities will increase their effectiveness in addressing pressing social, political and economic issues. Definitely we believe that men are not the problem: they are well placed to contribute towards social transformation. They are critical players in contributing towards “a new heaven and a new earth”. This is a world characterized by gender justice. Gender justice is achieved when women and men interact as equals created in the image of God.

In different parts of the world, men have emerged as the gender that is mostly responsible for perpetrating sexual and gender based violence. In addition they are most likely to have multiple concurrent sexual partners thereby increasing their partners’ (either at home or outside) and their ownvulnerability to HIV. This has seen an increase in the use of the idea “transformative masculinity”, especially in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA).

“Transformative Masculinity” seeks to challenge boys and men to contribute towards more helpful and life giving ideas about what it means to be men. In many cultures, ideas relating to a “real man” suggest that is one who:

  • Uses force and violence in relationships
  • Rough, tough and insensitive
  • Does not recognize the human rights of women, feelings/emotions(especially in public)
  • Does not accept leadership of women
  • Has sex with as many women as possible
  • Accepts the use of language that denigrates the stature of women
  • Must always be in control; possessive and dominating
  • Exceedingly competitive and does not fall
  • Addicted to work.

This and so much more the list can go. The overall aim is to contribute towards the multiplication of “gender equitable” men in our communities.

The Role of Religious Leaders in Promoting Transformative Masculinity.

Religious leaders play avital role in promoting transformative masculinity. To begin with, religions have tended to support or justify the abuse of power by men. Many men, including those who are not actively religious, appeal to sacred texts to justify why they should dominate women. Some perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence maintain that religion has accorded them the rights to do as they please with women. Religious leaders can help to challenge such abuses of religion by challenging men to be more sensitive and caring.

Young Women Speak up – Celebrating our stories

By Andrea Gradiz, YWCA of Honduras. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Krist shares her experience.

YWCA dinner “Young Women Speak Up- Celebrating Our Stories” was an event to share our stories of empowerment with other young people and encourage them to speak up and join the cause. What I got was more than that. How do you explain a feeling which cannot be described? I could say overwhelmed, but that word is not big enough to express it all.

The evening started with a few snacks, juices, wine, mingling and introducing ourselves to new people. As the evening passed, through the music of an amazing chorus, I was asked to speak up and tell my story. What could I say? So as I walked in front of everyone, trying to find my words of what to tell. I knew that even if I am not someone who has experienced at firsthand a heartbreaking or motivational story and even if I live in a country with many disadvantages I’ve never experienced any of them. I have however, known people around me, family, friends, colleagues whose experiences have inspired me to act. Maybe that is why I started my journey of advocacy for young women’s rights, because just standing there and witnessing it is not enough, is not fair, and is not human.

So my “story” was an attempt to express how fascinating meeting my colleagues from the YWCA was, women who have lived through stuff nobody wishes to go through in life, such amazing women who are an example not only to their communities but to humanity. And so I spoke about how being a member of the YWCA is not just being in an organization, but also being part of a family. I’ve been part of previous international events, and it is during this event AIDS2014, it is here in Melbourne that I have come to realize that no matter who you are, what you are and where you are; no matter if you meet people for the first time, the second time or third time, the cozy feeling of being welcomed and being home is something the YWCA is capable of giving. I’m more than thankful for coming, I’m more than glad to meet my colleagues, I am more than honored to be learning from them. Maybe what I am trying to manifest is that I don’t consider myself a motivation for others, but instead an example of what motivation creates, it is the courage of the amazing women I’ve met that gave me a voice to speak against injustice and walk with them.

And so the dinner ended, and we said goodnight, not to my colleagues, not to my friends, but to my wide family, to our YWCA. Thank you for motivating me, thank you making me.


Stigma is real

By Sonia Odek, YWCA of Kenya. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Sonia shares her experience.

It was a great to be part of this delegation. I arrived a day later than the other delegates but I had the chance to learn a lot.

Sonia Odek (second from the left) with members from YWCA delegation

Sonia Odek (second from the left) with members from YWCA delegation

One of the speakers at this preconference that made an impact in my life and that I will never forget is a young woman called Cath Smith who shared her story, her journey and her challenges living positively with HIV/AIDS. She contracted the virus from a heterosexual partner who lied to her about his status. The worst part is how her parents and family treated her when they found out about her status. “GOD IS PUNISHING YOU!!!!!” that’s what they said to her.

I have learnt that young people struggle with the same things all over the world. Regardless of which continent you come from, whether white or black, rich or poor. Being young means being judged by the society and the bar raised a little higher. The struggle to live positively is harder for young people since everybody constantly assume that you contracted the virus due to bad habits like having multiple partners or having unprotected sex. This is not always the case and its time that the youth fight to live freely and enjoy their youth whether they are HIV positive or negative.

Stigma is real. It hurts and we cry. The opportunity for great, powerful and courageous young women from the different YWCAs all over the world to share with us their struggles and the amazing things they do in society must be appreciated. I have been challenged to do more in my society. To worker harder and raise awareness because I have realised that there are so many young women who are going through the same things as those shared here but who are not strong enough to share. They fear and they hold back. It takes a lot to speak out.

I am going back to Kenya to inspire, encourage and motivate young women and all youths and to make sure that they don’t suffer a lone. It is time for youths to make life better for themselves. No one can do this for us. We have strong voices, all we have to do is speak and the world will surely listen and as we always say THERE IS NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US.


AIDS 2014 Youth Pre-Conference

By Hannah Gissane, YWCA Australia. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Hannah shares her experience.

Youth Force

YWCA Delegates

In the days leading up to the International AIDS Conference, a group of us from the World YWCA delegation attended the International Youth Pre-Conference. In a very sobering start to the Pre-Conference, we learnt of the MH17 tragedy. With the news of 298 deaths including a number of AIDS2014 conference delegates, a dark cloud was cast over the conference. Just how profound this loss was for HIV research, activism and advocacy was encapsulated by Purnima Mane, from Pathfinder, who said “we have lost soldiers in the global fight against AIDS, but we will celebrate their legacy.” After a minute’s silence Alischa Ross, from Melbourne Youth Force, facilitated the biggest group cuddle I’ve ever been in! Around 100 delegates turned to the person on their right for a big cuddle – a soul warming start to a sad day.

The hug really set the tone for a Pre-Conference which would espouse a prevailing theme of Love. The Dove Foundation presented early on in the first day describing their four pillars of HIV action – Education, Treatment, Reform and Love. Love was present in the innate solidarity felt in a room full of people motivated to act. loveThere was something refreshing about recontextualising Love, something we associate with our private lives, and bringing it into a public health and policy discourse. Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court Judge, reflected on this saying “I’ve always thought human rights was grounded in love for one another.”

Bill Nicholson, a Wurundjeri Elder, welcomed Pre-Conference delegates to the Kulin Nation. Bill also spoke to delegates about the devastating impacts of colonialism and land theft on Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; providing a clear picture of the ongoing dispossession and disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in Australia.

Among the many speakers we also heard from Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of the Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa for UNAIDS. Shelia’s tenacity and will as a leader was best captured when talked about her determination to bring levels of transmission down by 90% from 2010 levels; when she was appointed to this role. Sheila spoke about the fact that rates of transmission are declining across every age group except for adolescents. In saying this she reminded us that we are making progress and it is important to remember this. There was no better reminder of this than sitting in that room, full of amazing, passionate young community leaders working hard and making change. Being in that room made me feel like we could achieve anything!

There were numerous interactive training workshops and art projects throughout the two days. Greta Williams (YWCA Australia) and I attended an Advocacy Training Workshop facilitated by Results Australia. The workshop was extremely useful and ran through the EPIC principles for formulating a laser or elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a lightning speed way of advocating to your target politicians and media when you don’t have much time. EPIC stands for Engage, Problem, Inform and Call to Action. Greta formulated a great laser pitch for the World YWCA delegation for our time at AIDS2014 with the aim of raising the profile of young women living positively. You can watch Greta’s pitch here!

The Pre-Conference was successful in creating a space where youth was a valuable qualification; our ideas were listened to and recorded for the International AIDS Conference. I’ll leave you with this from Laura John, Melbourne Youth Force Ambassador, who said “when someone tells me that young people are the future, I politely remind them that I am a leader today!”



Selfies With A Message: AIDS 2014

By Krist Angela Zicishti, YWCA of Albania. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Krist shares her experience.

Today was the first day of the booth; this is a marketplace whereby different organisations have stalls to share their work. Today seven of us including Greta, YWCA Australia, Krist, YWCA Albania, Sonia, YWCA Kenya, CZ from YWCA India and Lukrecia from YWCA Benin were in charge of manning the booth. It was a bit nerve racking in the beginning because we wanted to represent the YWCA as best as possible and do a great job. Greta had a really good idea to use ‘selfies’ to promote the priorities of the YWCA.

Greta Williams

Greta Williams

But would the idea of Greta be successful?! Recently selfies are popular with everyone.

Selfies everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, Whatapps etc. People use it to show their personality, portrait or take a stand with a cause. So reflecting on this we decided to use selfies for supporting YWCA purposes. A bit sceptical in the beginning, people coming to the booth were different and some people actually hate photos of themselves. But our booth showed the contrary. For 2 hours, 132 people have done selfies supporting #stigmafreefutures and Support women rights.


Krist Angela Zicishti, Hendrica Okondo and others

 Guess what?! People were happy to do something so awesome and meaningful. Girls were so nice too. Our team was a total polyglot and this also made things easier. Most of the people already were familiar with YWCA, for example a nice woman from Spain said “I was searching for YWCA and I happy you guys are here.” You can imagine our happiness! Another special guest on our booth today was the winner of AIDS design, a very nice young and friendly boy who was very interested about YWCA activities. It was just the first day, and things were really perfect. I hope we will continue like this. Actually no, I am sure we will continue like this. Is there greater joy than having the opportunity to spread our message? To spread our purpose? To see people interested and wishing to help us to do that. We made sure that the following advocacy messages were heard:

  • Ensure comprehensive sexuality education for both in and out of school adolescents, through a holistic and integrated approach which involves parents, teachers and service providers.
  • Ensure the provision of affordable and quality maternal health services, both in urban and rural areas, including HIV prevention and anti-retroviral therapy to safeguard safe pregnancy and delivery.
  • Improve access to voluntary counselling and testing services for women, including young women and marginalised groups, ensuring that these services are: of high-quality, affordable, confidential, accessible without restrictions by age, marital status, and without the requirements of parental/spousal consent.
  • Guarantee women’s safety from violence against women (VAW) and girls by taking legislative and other measures to exercise due diligence in order to prevent, protect, investigate, punish and provide adequate reparations for acts of VAW/G to get a full range of legal, health, social and other related services.
  • Provide youth-friendly SRH services, where spousal/parental consent is not required. These services should be: accessible, affordable, confidential, non-judgmental and without discrimination for all women including married and unmarried women, adolescent girls, young women with disabilities and women living with HIV.

Spread this message with my YWCA sisters, so young, so smart, so fierce…. imagine, it was just the first day.

20th International AIDS Conference

By Marcie Martinez , YWCA of Belize. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. YWCA Australia and the World YWCA held pre-training to the conference. Below Marcie shares her experience.


YWCA Delegation

This was the first day spent in Melbourne and it was very exciting. We revised the YWCA strategic framework reminding each other of the 3 priority areas; sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), intergenerational leadership, and movement building.

The ladies shared different stories from their different backgrounds and the kind of work YWCA is doing in their countries. Some of the most striking interventions were for example methods of condom distribution. For discretion others hand them out with the pamphlet whilst others hand them out in target areas e.g. barbershops or salons. Salons are a place where a lot of women commonly meet. These can be used as safe spaces where women meet and discuss their issues. Women who are HIV positive or victims of sexual violation need a bio psychosocial approach in order for them to regroup and plan for their future. As such it is important to have structures in society that support these women and use a multidisciplinary approach.

We need to shift from a needs based approach to a rights based approach. This promotes the fact that young women not only need support in terms of basic needs but skills to empower them to find means of meeting those needs themselves and ability to do more.