YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant Featuring Isabella Muthoni
We hear from Isabella Muthoni- Kenya
#WhatWomenWant campaign is a collaborative effort launched by the ATHENA network. The Campaign aims to engage activists and advocates in women’s civil society & feminist organizations to contribute towards renewed leadership and drive momentum toward realizing the vision, priorities and rights of women and girls in all of their diversity and to end HIV as a public health emergency. The objective of #WhatWomenWant is to utilize the political moment at hand presented by the newly adopted SDGs and the upcoming High Level Meeting on AIDS to ensure that women’s priorities for HIV prevention; freedom from violence, an end to GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights are amplified and reflected in the Political Declaration to be produced at the High Level Meeting. ATHENA and partners aims for this global virtual conversation to place women and girls squarely at the center of all agendas, to provide a platform for operationalizing gender equality in the HIV movement and outside of it, and to catalyze cross-movement dialogue and action toward what truly works for women and girls in their diversity.
1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services?
According to UNAIDS 2013 HIV Estimates, despite declining HIV infection rates, in 2013 globally, there were approximately 250,000 new HIV infections among adolescent boys and girls, 64% of which are among adolescent girls. In Africa, 74% of new infections among adolescents were among adolescent girls. It is important that we double our efforts in order to reduce that number by 2030. The current gaps and key barriers in Sub-Saharan Africa include;
- Not knowing their HIV status – according to ‘Adolescents: health risks and solutions. Fact sheet 345. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014’, only 15% of young women and adolescent girls aged 15–24 years in sub-Saharan Africa know their HIV status.
- Stigma, discrimination, lack of social protection and punitive laws against girls and young women are some of the gaps that need to be addressed in order close the current gaps in HIV protection.
- Lack of access to clinics and contraception options especially for young girls
- Early marriages for adolescent girls and young women
2. What effective strategies that have worked in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?
One effective strategy that has worked in my community is having the gender-based violence desk at the police stations. This has ensured that victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence have been handled in a better manner and that evidence is better collected to be able to prosecute the perpetrators. It is pertinent to note that not each and every police station has this desk and many of them are underfunded, which still leaves many of the victims unable to access justice at all after experiencing violence. Another strategy that has worked is encouraging the victims of gender-based violence to report the assault at the nearest police station. While reporting the matter is the first step when it comes to addressing GBV, it is not a guarantee that the matter will be followed up and that the victims will be able to obtain justice. As a practicing lawyer though, I have always encouraged my clients to report the matter and get the O.B number as it is proof that the victim was assaulted on a particular date and time and that she reported the matter to the police in case there is ever any future occurrence of the same.
3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality
It all starts with quality education for young girls and women. Studies have demonstrated that educating women and girls is the single most effective strategy to ensure the well-being and health of children, and the long-term success of developing economies. In Sub-Saharan Africa and everywhere around the globe, girls and women continue to suffer from a lack of economic opportunity, inadequate health care and education, early marriage, sexual violence, and discrimination. If young women are given the opportunity to go to school and obtain quality education, they will be able to break structural barriers that hinder their progress towards gender equality. There are countless barriers that hinder achievement of gender equality all embedded in patriarchal and misogynistic cultural practices. If we are able to deal with these deep-rooted cultural practices and norms that advocate for Female Genital Mutilation/cutting and non-education for young women, we will make great strides towards achievement of gender equality.
4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?
We need a feminist approach to HIV response because young girls and women are affected by the epidemic in a different way. According to the UNAIDS & The AFRICAN UNION | REFERENCE | 2015 Report “Empower Young Women and Adolescent Girls: Fast-tracking the end of the AIDS epidemic in Africa”, many young women who marry or enter into partnerships early do not have the knowledge or the personal agency that enables them to protect themselves from HIV – for example, they cannot negotiate when to have sex or to use condoms. Women and girls also continue to experience unique risks and vulnerabilities to HIV during conflicts, emergencies and post-conflict periods. In conflict situations, rape can be used as a weapon of war, increasing the risk of HIV transmission because rates of HIV among military personnel typically exceed those of the general population.In order to overturn these statistics, I believe that we need a feminist HIV Response, one that calls for increase in the provision and access to comprehensive sexuality education, one that advocates to keeping girls in school, one that calls an end to harmful cultural practices like FGM which may spread HIV and a response that calls on Governments to implement social protection programs in order to reduce HIV Infections among adolescent girls and young women.
5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016, what is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting, especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs?
I would like to see strong commitments come out of the meeting from the all member states, especially from Kenya, on provision of access to comprehensive sexuality education and access to contraception for women. I would like to see efforts to reduce infections of HIV among adolescent girls and young women fast-tracked and that governments will make financial commitment towards it as part of efforts to achieve the global goals by 2030.