Marsida Bandili-Young Feminist from Albania

#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 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?

There is a tremendous inequality in between different parts of the world and within our societies. We have to invest on closing the gaps: gender gap, educational gap and poverty gap. It is entirely unacceptable that there are still people who live with less than a dollar per day mostly women and girls. It women are exposed to HIV and that the face of the epidemic has become feminine. As a big gap in this direction is the lack of comprehensive sexuality education. It’s through intensive inclusion of SRHR education we would be able to raise awareness  and improve access to services.

  1. What effective strategies have worked in your community or setting to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?

GBV is a very complex issue to tackle because it is not just an individual issue, but also a humanitarian issue. The best way forward is to address GBV is from a societal perspective. Because of patriarchal cultures, women are oftentimes abused in various ways. In certain cases when women amplify their voices to denounce  violence, they may be faced with “judgements” from their neighbors, family, or even society at large. We have made significant advancement on women’s rights and their empowerment, but the GBV is probably one of the most sensitive and important aspects of women’s rights, where progress has been very little. It is important to start addressing this issue by educating everyone, women and men, to shift the mentality and make a transformational change in our “structured” beliefs. In the same way we have built traditions of “gender roles” in our society, we can unlearn what we have learnt. This is an unending fight, but it has to be incremental and consistent.

  1. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality.

It has to do a lot with empowerment, and empowerment comes from within. There are  millions of brave women who have made it; from poverty to empowerment; from gender based violence to empowerment; from being silenced to being heard. Every woman that has made herself stand out of what society has told her to do, with a firm belief in her inner values, is a model to follow. At the end of the day the structural barriers are constructed from us; both women and men. In the same way they have been constructed, is how we should deconstruct them. Its only with determination,  and firm belief  in equality that we will be able to “disrupt” those models that society imposes on us. Young women should always be supported to stay genuine and true to themselves, to stand up for what they believe  and to believe they are as capable as men for any kind of job. History has proven that when women got education, got to work and pursued their dreams,societies benefited, .

  1. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response

Statistics show that women are twice as likely to contract HIV from unprotected sex as men. This is not only related to biology but its also about culture and poverty. In many countries, for women poverty can mean financial dependence on a partner. This means they are not able to buy condoms or contraception and cannot insist on using protection because a woman’s value is measured by her fertility. Women are in this case faced with a choice between motherhood and HIV and are not in a position to  insist on abstinence. For these reasons we need to tackle HIV from a feminist perspective. We need women to live healthy lives, to have right and free access to treatment no matter where the are from or where they live. When we protect women, we also protect the society, through intensified PMTCT. By putting our resources in the right place, we treat the root causes!!!

  1. 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 the SDGs taken very seriously. I would like to see a serious commitment from countries, stakeholders and directly involved individuals. If we fail to deliver results, all of us fail. But if we succeed to accomplish and commit to make consistent change in our societies, everyone benefits. There is no other way to achieve sustainable development, than with work and progress for ourselves and for generations to come.

Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1

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