YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WHATWOMENWANT FEATURING SHIRIN CHOUDHARY
We hear from Shirin Choudhary from India
#WhatWomenWant is a collaborative effort launched by the ATHENA Network and driven by young feminists and young women from around the world. The campaign has created space for activists and advocates across the women’s movement to amplify their voices, power their solutions and claim their agency. The #WhatWomenWant online campaign aims to inspire renewed leadership and drive momentum towards realizing the vision, priorities, and rights of women and girls in all of their diversity and to end HIV as a public health emergency. It provides a democratic platform and space to equalize all voices and catalyze cross-movement action towards what truly works for women and girls.
- What are the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls, and what are key barriers and enablers to young women accessing HIV/SRHR services?
The HIV response for women and girls needs to respond to their specific, contextual needs. The stigma associated with, and the constraint placed upon the sexual lives of young women is high, and the HIV response can only be appropriate if it is seen through a lens of comprehensive sexual and reproductive rights. This means prioritizing comprehensive sexuality education(CSE). Comprehensive rights means that all young people, men and women, should have access to all their sexual rights and health needs, and be empowered to make decisions regarding their sexual lives, without having to face structural and cultural barriers. Without the help of CSE, it is impossible to fully meet the health needs of young women around the globe.
- What does the end of AIDS mean to you? What role can the women’s movement play to accelerate progress?
To me, the end of AIDS means the end of stigma and discrimination that HIV+ people have to face every day. It means that we live in a world where AIDS isn’t the end of life. Around me, I know many people who have many misconceptions about HIV and living with HIV. These misconceptions need to be cleared through CSE. The women’s movement has done a wonderful job so far, of empowering young women around the world to assert and engage with their own rights, with regard to their bodies. We need to continue this struggle so that all young women can assert their bodily autonomy and integrity, and be able to safely access their rights to lead fulfilling lives.
- Why do we need a feminist HIV response?
HIV/AIDS is not just a health issue, but is related to our social and cultural lives. The response to HIV needs to be a feminist one because we need a societal reform. This reform is most needed in the way we treat people living with HIV, and in the way they access medical care. Feminism empowers young women and aims to create an environment that is conducive to their empowerment. It is important for young women to be able to access information, support, and essential care, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, and a feminist response aims for just that!!
- What is your top health priority for women and girls in the next 5 years as it relates to HIV?
For me, one of the major priorities is comprehensive sexuality education. Any sort of health education is incomplete without information on HIV/AIDS, STIs and RTIs. It is also incomplete without looking at gender and sexuality in a healthy and positive way. CSE, when deployed correctly, creates an environment for young women and girls to be able to assert the needs of their bodies. The fight against HIV needs such an environment.
- The 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, along with other global and regional policy instruments, have made bold pledges to achieve gender equality and address HIV for women and girls. How can national governments practically translate these commitments into actions?
National governments need to be able to get the support from local women’s civil society organisations and reach grassroots levels – communities that might be needing support and healthcare but never get it. They also need concrete and transparent action plans, that involve the people they want to reach out to. The response to HIV should not be one where people are seen as merely beneficiaries of policies, but also as drivers of change and agents of their own well being – and this goes especially for young people. National governments need to let go of conservatism and move towards a society where young people are provided relevant and accurate information about their bodies and sexuality, and are trusted to make their own decisions.