**Content Warning** This piece mentions sexual violence (resources available at the bottom of this page)
My lovely people,
The talk of ending HIV and AIDS has been going for ages, are we really going to end HIV and AIDS by 2030? To answer this question, we must ask ourselves what actions do we take in our HIV community to put people first? And more importantly, are we making sure to put women in charge?
There is always this inequality. We point it out, we are all aware of it, but concrete actions are hardly noticed. It seems that women are always the last to be thought about while their vulnerability around HIV is so visible. Yet, often we remain silent, indifferent. When will women be saved from this suffering of inequality? When will they not only be spoken about but also put in charge of addressing their challenges related to HIV and AIDS?
This January I am in my home country, Burundi, and my heart is broken when I talk to women in the communities. For example when I talk to a mother with child abandoned by the father, homeless women with children, or young girls begging on the street. Many of these women have no means or support network to take care of themselves and their children.
Some women resort to becoming a sex worker. This is not without danger, many of them are still sleeping on the streets and through their profession or whilst living on the streets there is a high chance of them being raped. Some told me that happens at least 3 times per week!
The rights of these women are being violated and need to be supported. No wonder it makes me angry when we shamelessly announce we want to end HIV and AIDS in 2030 while basic rights and needs of these women are not even met yet, or when there is no plan of making PrEP available as a preventive strategy to help these women to protect themselves from HIV. Where are our HIV allies when we need them most?
This month my focus is to initiate the strengthening of community-based groups working with vulnerable women to increase their awareness about health & HIV services and PrEP as a life-saving measure for HIV prevention and stigma reduction.
To make a lasting impact we must work directly with local actors, so I have teamed up with a local organisation called BAWA (Burundian Association for Women in Action). The first thing we did was to make sure we listen. We must understand the societal challenges the women face on a daily basis. And my goodness, they are many!
Many women reported they face domestic violence, some sex workers end up with pregnancy during their work and experience problems to register their children as sometimes they are arrested and have their IDs taken, women sleep on the streets without mosquito nets and suffer from malaria and since they are not registered they cannot get mosquito nets, some are being detained by police and taken to the countryside where they live in places without services, etc. It is very shocking. All of them came to the same conclusion, we need safety and protection!
Having talked about these challenges and how they affect their lives, we moved to listening to their ideas about how to improve their situation. And it became so apparent to me that they have really great ideas about how they can create a better future for themselves. For example, many women would wish to have access to PrEP or be able to protect themselves for example through condoms.
As BAWA works together with others to address the needs of these vulnerable women, we also organised a session together with them to interact with the women of BAWA. We discussed their strategies on how women can stay healthy and safe, and how to seek help when needed. This was also a great opportunity for me to share the latest on HIV prevention and treatment. So, I shared with them a whole range of preventive measures such as the dapivirine vaginal ring, PrEP pill or injectable PrEP. This is a part of the world where I clearly see the need for injectable PrEP as this will positively impact upon the health of vulnerable women. We were also able to make female and male condoms available, and most strongly preferred female condoms because they are a better means for them to protect themselves.
As is customary in our society, to end these fruitful sessions and collaborations in the Burundian grassroots (HIV) community we shared a great lunch together!
If we do not work with organisations such as BAWA and the vulnerable women they represent directly, ending HIV and AIDS by 2030 is an illusion! So, HIV allies pay attention, let's make 2024 the year to get the balance right and make sure we address the challenges of women in the global South in our fight against HIV and AIDS.
- Resources on the Intersection of Women, HIV and Violence
- Trauma and HIV
- Violence Against Women and HIV
This blog was originally posted on hivstigmafighter.