Celebrating a new generation of rights aware girls

Celebrating a new generation of rights aware girls

Date: December 5, 2011
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It’s almost the end of the day when, chatting with my work colleague Shuvai, she reminds me about an exciting debate the Gender Links’ Justice Programme is hosting the following day, 1 December, to commemorate World AIDS Day.

With so much to do during this period, to be honest the only reason why I agree to attend is that out of desperation for stories for my programme’s e-newsletter, the Roadmap to Equality.

Come Thursday morning, I am sitting at my desk regretting why I agreed to attend the debate. I try very hard to convince myself that the debate is that not that important and there are better things to worry about. I start working on my e-newsletter, but the small voice inside my head telling me to attend becomes so loud I can’t ignore it anymore. I finally give in and make my way to the venue of the debate.

When I get into the room I look around and all I see are young high schools girls, most of them barely 18. I’m more convinced I was right about not attending, but I decide to give it a try, since I’m there already anyways.

Just 10 minutes spent observing these high school girls and my world is turned upside down and will never be the same again. I cannot believe I am in a room full of 17 year-olds; these girls know so much about their sexuality and sexual rights. To me, that is a positive sign that at least we are getting somewhere in this fight against HIV and AIDS.

I’m quickly taken back to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s statement to commemorate Aids Day where he said,”Heading into the fourth decade of AIDS, we are finally in a position to end the epidemic. The progress we have made so far is proof that we can realize our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

According to the UN, the number of new HIV infections has fallen by more than 20% since 1997 and new infections are continuing to decline in most parts of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by the AIDS epidemic, HIV incidence has decreased in 22 countries.

A storm is brewing inside me as I think of the many women out there who have lost their lives because they were not as empowered as these young girls. Sex was taboo when they were growing up. The only sex education they received was from their aunts a few nights before their wedding night; most of which centred on being submissive to their husbands and never refusing them sex even when they are cheating.

I totally relate to these old generation women, as I don’t remember ever having openly talked about my sexuality or sexual and reproductive rights at school or at home. I remember how some of my schoolmates and college mates were stigmatised for using contraceptives, including condoms.

I sadly remember one girl in my journalism class who later died of an AIDS related illness, it’s only now I realise how I am part of a system that failed her. We were quick to judge and call her names, but never gave her the chance to tell her story. If back then I was as empowered as the girls in this room, I could have stood up for her and helped her get the right information on safe sex.

The world has really changed. Young women of today are more empowered and know their sexual and reproductive rights, whether they decide to abstain or start engaging in sex.

In the end instead of just getting my story, I must say the debate was an eye-opener. It made me appreciate the work everyone is doing to fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Lucia Makamure is the Alliance Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service and African Woman and Child Feature Service special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.


0 thoughts on “Celebrating a new generation of rights aware girls”

Asseny Muro says:

Very useful article. Useful case study in gender and HIV & AIDS training

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