Category Archives: HIV/AIDS

Ending FGM & Harmful Traditional Practices: Engaging Our Religious & Cultural Leaders

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By Otina Kennedy*

In many African communities, cultural leaders are increasingly under pressure to remain relevant in light of increasing awareness and advancements on human rights for women and men.  There are many cultural practices that are in direct conflict with some of the national and regional laws, especially those which focus on the rights of women and girls. Most cultural institutions are male dominated and promote patriarchal tendencies that have remained a major hindrance to social justice and adherence to women’s and girls’ rights.  The greatest challenge is transforming the attitudes of cultural leaders to promote the rights of women, without fear of losing their influence in their communities.

endFGM

Since 2013, FEMNET (African Women’s Development and Communication Network), the Swedish Reproductive Health Organization (RFSU), Masculinity Institute (MAIN) and the Anglican Development Services Mount Kenya East (ADMSKE) have jointly partnered to tap in to the social status and influence religious and cultural leaders to promote sexual, reproductive, health and rights – SRHR for women and girls in Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Homabay counties in Kenya.

The project engages cultural and religious leaders in mobilising and leading their communities towards ending socio-cultural practices deeply-rooted in their communities such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and wife inheritance as a strategy to promote sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls in Tharaka Nithi and Homa Bay counties, respectively.

Using FEMNET’s Men to Men Strategy, the leaders have successfully cultivated an environment for religious and cultural leaders to work together to address FGM. For example, in Meru and Tharaka Nithi, the highly esteemed cultural leaders known as Njuri Ncheke have been openly supporting alternative rites of passage and are giving a consistent message to their communities.

The project has provided a platform where religious and cultural leaders share intelligence on secret ways used in performing FGM. One such tick is the transfer of girls from one village to another to confuse the locals.  From this information, religious and cultural leaders are alert and continuously monitor the influx of non-resident girls into their neighborhoods to ensure they don’t undergo FGM. The national treasurer of the Njuri Ncheke, Mzee Mwamba from Mara, is a traditional male circumciser and gathered this intelligence:

‘One day as I was checking on the medicine used on circumcised boys, I noticed that somebody was using the herbs without my knowledge. Upon investigations, I was informed about some women who were colluding with my assistants to siphon the herbs. I later learned the women were administering the herbs on girls who had been brought in the neighborhood from other communities to undergo FGM. As a trainer of trainers on SRHR, I was embarrassed that this practice was still happening in my backyard.  I reprimanded my assistants and the women involved who later shared the tricks that they use locally to perform FGM. I have gone further to establish a team of scouts who are keeping a watchful eye on girls visiting our area to protect them from FGM. Even though the women who were stealing my herbs committed to stop the practice, I had to report them to the area Chief who is the government representative at the village level to ensure they are known to the authorities for illegal activities.’

Women remain key allies in all the efforts to eradicate FGM. Society has pushed them into believing that FGM is a source of income and status in the community. Women have been pushed to justify FGM as a cultural heritage despite the negative impact the practice has on them directly. Most of the women who mutilate these young girls don’t believe that FGM is illegal and will go an extra mile to mobilise their fellow women to allow their girls to undergo the practice.  “We can easily tell if a girl from a particular family has not been circumcised. Our cultural practice requires that after undergoing FGM, the mother to the girl must organise a dance ceremony for women in the village to  perform songs and dances in praise of the circumcised girl”,  said a woman who performs FGM. Men have continuously blamed women for performing FGM, yet they seldom publicly condemn it. This is a scapegoat used by the men to avoid taking responsibilityon FGM matters. Women should be made to understand the immediate and long term negative impacts of FGM on the girls and on women’s SRHR life.

Article 5 of the Maputo Protocol calls upon State Parties to prohibit “all forms of FGM” through legislative measures and supportive sanctions. Kenya has since come up with an anti-FGM law -“The Prohibition of the FGM Act 2011”. The Act explicitly prohibits female genital mutilation. However, the greatest challenge remains the implementation of law.  The situation gets worse at the community level as some duty bearers accept FGM as sound cultural practice.

In Kenya, the government is represented in every village by administrators who are often picked from the same community. This is aimed at ensuring that they are familiar with the people they are governing. However, they also harbor attitudes that perpetuate negative cultural practices like FGM thereby hindering efforts towards eradicating it.  A case in point is in Katwara village, where a family was free to perform FGM on their girls after paying Kshs. 6,500 (USD 70). The money is shared as follows: the area Chief and Assistant Chief get Kshs. 1,500 (USD 16) each, the village Headman gets Kshs.1,000 (USD 11) and the woman performing the cut gets Kshs. 2,000 (USD 22). When members of the community went to demand an explanation as to why the Chief as a government official was allowing the practice to continue in the village, he became indifferent.” Kila mtu ako na mtoto wake na anaweza kumfanyia kile anachotaka. Sitaki maneno yenu na mkijaribu kutuingilia tutawaroga” (Everybody has their own child and is free to do what they like. I don’t want to engage with you on question and answer anymore. I will bewitch anybody who interferes with us). The Chief has succeeded in intimidating the community members using his position in government. As a government representative in the community, it is unfortunate that he supports a practice that has been outlawed. This scenario is repeated many times over in communities and countries across Africa.

This year, the project partners have purposed to expand the stakeholders’ base to target other members of the community. In the coming months, we will be strengthening the role of women as advocates for the eradication of FGM. Men and boys will also be given a platform to openly voice and demand an end to FGM.  Additionally, the project will undertake advocacy campaigns targeting national and county governments to ensure that the existing national laws are widely known by the citizenry, and are implemented. At national level, the project will share intelligence on the tricks community members are using to procure FGM on young girls with the National Anti FGM Board. The project will work together with the National Police Service to ensure that they are properly trained to handle these cases and that  reported cases are prosecuted as a matter of public interest.  It is sad that FGM is still a problem facing us at this time and age. This is a wakeup call to all of us that a lot more is needed to truly abandon and end FGM in our generation.  There is need for concerted efforts by all – women and men, girls and boys, young and old, government and non-governmental institutions – as well as education, advocacy, outreach, political will and collaboration. This is not just a problem for the few, but for us as a people of Kenya. FGM is wrong. Protect the girl by raising your voice.

Join the campaign: #endfgm.

*Mr Otina Kennedy is the Program Associate (Regional Men to Men Program) at FEMNET.

#Raising Awareness to Reduce the Burden of Mental Health Issues on Youth

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By Bethseba Akoyo

The United Nation’s International Youth Day is celebrated on August 12th every year to acknowledge the efforts of the youth in society and foster an understanding of issues affecting the youth. This year’s theme of the International Youth Day is “Youth and Mental Health” under the motto “Mental Health Awareness”. The United Nations describes youth as individuals between the ages of 15 to 24; this description is different from some nations who view the youth as those aged between 15 years to 29 or 35 years. Regardless of the definition, youth are individuals who are in an age of transition between childhood to adulthood. During this transition, there are many significant decisions they have to make since they are faced with dilemmas that will shape their future. This age thus calls for a state of mental health and support which allows the youth to make better decisions about their wellness and that of the world at large. Mental health is a subject that gravely affects the youth as youth with mental health conditions experience a lot of discrimination. Currently, 20% of the world’s youth have a mental condition. Severe mental illnesses often begin before the age of 24 and they are characterized by psychiatric disorders which render the youth unable to make important decisions about their lives. Most of them even fall prey to suicide, which is ranked the third cause of death among youths in the globe. The common mental disorders that affect our youth are anxiety disorders, attention deficit, behavior disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia and substance abuse. These disorders may however vary depending on the environment of an individual. The disorders are overarching affecting their general health, performance in school and work and their social lives.

There is need to protect the youth from mental disorders by giving them access to effective and modern mental health services that will not only give them the capability to better their present lives but also empower them to take charge of the future and use their ideas and talents to contribute to the development of the global society. Youth with mental health conditions should be empowered so that they can feel secure in society. The youth are our tomorrow’s leaders, activists, feminists and innovators. Investing in their mental health implies that we are investing in the future and securing a better life for future generations. We should foster mental health among youth with mental health problems through supporting their ideas and providing a platform through which they can express these ideas without intimidation. The youth also require access to comprehensive education that educates them how to solve problems facing them such as hunger and poverty, conflict and unemployment. As we observe this year’s Youth International Day, let us also keep in mind that youth with mental health conditions form a significant part of society; respecting and advocating for their rights forms a strong background from which they can rise up and take part in the development of society.

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Bethseba Akoyo is an Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). You can connect with her on twitter @bethbelle and email bethakoyo@gmail.com

ENSURING A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

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ENSURING A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

By Nakyazze Julian*

This year, World Population Day is celebrated on the 11th July with the theme invest in young people to ensure a bright future. According to the statistics there are 1.8 billion people aged 10-24 in the world, making one quarter of the world’s population.

Every day the world seems to keep getting worse with many shocking stories of violence and war. Often it is the young people who are mostly blamed for these challenges. We blame terrorism on the unemployed young men who become radicalized extremists. We blame poverty on the illiterate young women who become pregnant and give birth to babies they can’t afford. We blame young girls for engaging in early sex and end up acquiring STIs.

If you believe the stories, and follow the blame game, the world’s biggest problem is young people because currently over 1.8 billion young people with 88 percent of all adolescents are living in poor countries, too many are uneducated, unemployed and unable to access basic health services and information. Young people are denied the basic sexual and reproductive health services and information they need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. There are specific ways in which investment in youth can be put to work to achieve the greatest benefits in terms of economic, social and human rights. We can all work together to make sure that the young people are protected, educated and in good health.

A high quality, equitable, inclusive and comprehensive education is one of the major factors relevant to young people’s lives which can build resilience among youth and pave the way for livelihoods that will contribute to the development of their communities. Comprehensive sexuality and risk education can help to prevent early pregnancy and HIV/AIDS as well as the risky behaviors that gain prevalence in adolescence, such as smoking or alcohol consumption.

Ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health, rights and information is essential, including the right of every one to seek, receive and give information about sexuality without stigma, discrimination or violence, in order to have their bodies respected and protected.

Young people need support from the government, CSOs, educators, health workers to become catalysts for poverty reduction, good governance and economic development and to ensure that their voices are heard. Are you a young person? How are you ensuring a bright future for yourself and the generations after you? Join the Twitter Dialogue #wpd2014

 

*Nakyazze Julian is an FK fellow from DRASPAC in Uganda currently working with FEMNET. Connect with her on twitter @judrine or email: nakyazzejulia@yahoo.com

KAMPALA CIVIL SOCIETY POSITION STATEMENT ON POST 2015

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June 25th, 2014

We representatives of women’s rights, faith and community-based, civil society organizations, media and government from over 14 countries across the continent convened to deliberate on ‘Strengthening African Women’s Voices in the Post-2015 Processes’and the Africa We Want and Need.

We recognize that the Common African Position (CAP) has strong commitments to ensure that “No person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities.” African Heads of State specifically highlighted the inextricable link between gender equality, women’s rights, women’s empowerment and Africa’s structural transformation.

Within the Post-2015 global process, this recognition has led to a dedicated goal on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. For gender equality and women’s empowerment to be truly transformative, it must be anchored in a human rights framework. In addition to a stand-alone goal, it is essential that women’s rights be a cross-cutting priority within the entire Sustainable Development Goals framework.

The prioritization of women’s rights will ensure that spatial, political, social and economic inequalities are addressed. Furthermore, the redistribution of wealth, power, opportunities and resources is critical for addressing prevalent inequalities between men and women, within and between countries.  In addition, development cannot be achieved without peace, security and accountable governance as clearly articulated in CAP.

We therefore call for your support on the following:-

a)      A transformative goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment;

b)      Recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work – the burden of care falls disproportionately on women and girls and must be shared among men and women; the State; Private Sector, Communities;

c)       Eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls – in policies, laws and practices. This includes the elimination of harmful practices including FGM and early, child and forced marriage;

d)      Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; which would address unacceptably high levels of maternal mortality, teenage pregnancies, transmission of STIs, HIV/AIDS

e)     Access to, control over and ownership of resources and assets including land, energy, credit, information and technology;

f)   Mobilize domestic resources through innovative financing such as curbing illicit financial flows, eliminating tax havens, instituting progressive taxation, gender-responsive budgets, reallocating military expenditures and eliminating corruption;

g)    Ensuring gender parity in decision-making, transparent and accountable governance at all levels

h)     Addressing peace as stand-alone goal and also ensure its mainstreaming throughout all other goals with an emphasis on the principles of good governance and rule of law.

We urge you to keep the spaces open for meaningful CSO engagement in all stages of the formulation, implementation and monitoring of the Post 2015 development framework. We also emphasize the need to mobilize the maximum available resources tomeet existing human rights obligations and ensure the full enjoyment of economic and social rights, following principles of Common but Differentiated Responsibilitiesnon-retrogression for the diversity of actors engaged in development, especially women’s organizations and movements. As CSO representatives and other stakeholders, we are committed to work in partnership with African governments to ensure the realization of the above to deliver an inclusive, participatory and equitable Africa we want and need – not only for the next 15 years but for generations to come. Let this be our legacy.

For more information, contact: communication@femnet.or.ke

 

Fighting the Elephant in the Room

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Fighting the Elephant in the Room:  The Case of Weka Condom Mpangoni Campaign

By Felister Makandi

Last month national AIDS and STI control programme (NASCOP) found itself in a tight spot due to a condom advert it was sponsoring. The advert dubbed “weka condom mpangoni” in English translated as “include condom in the plan” starts with two women having a casual conversation as they walk to the market. The two discuss about their families and one complains about her drunkard husband who is not living up to his duties.  She says she is happy with her new found love who works in the same market and she is comfortable with the arrangement. The other lady asks if they use condoms with the other man after noticing the lover in question is speaking to a younger woman. She then continues to advice her friend to use condoms with a new found boyfriend to protect her loved ones because there are many diseases out there.

The advert happened to be aired frequently at prime time and Kenyans would rather not watch it at that time. Religious leaders and some members of the society complained the advert was an insult to the institution of marriage and it was propagating immorality. The negative reactions left NASCOP with no other choice but to withdraw the advert. The debate took centre stage in many media platforms and as I sat in traffic I couldn’t help but listen to the heated discussions in a call in session in one of the local fm stations. Men and women alike called and gave their opinions about the advert and one thing came up. Most of the callers said that the advert would influence women to indulge in extra marital affairs and that the advert was an insult to the institution of marriage. I could not believe that this is what an HIV prevention advert had been reduced to: A toolkit for unfaithfulness.

Kenyans must be enlightened that in the fight against HIV/AIDS we all have to remain vigilant. That is why Kenyans need to face the following facts. Firstly, an HIV/AIDS study in 2009 showed that about half of new HIV infections occur in marriage. Secondly, the infection rates are much higher for women than men. Thirdly, both married men and women engage in extra marital affairs. These facts justify the move by NASCOP to sponsor the advert although I believe a better time would have been chosen other than the prime time to air the advert. Yes there is the question of what our children may learn from it but let us not lose track here. This advert is a wakeup call telling us something needs to be done. Religious leaders should understand that people dying of HIV are part of their congregations same as those having extra marital affairs. The best they can do is face the issue forthright and preach good morals.

This advert was not meant to encourage women to engage in extra marital affairs, but it was used to give women education and access of information in order for them to make free and informed sexual and reproductive health choices. We can preach “wacha mpango wa kando” but not everyone can heed to that advice.  For the purpose of inclusion it is important to understand that no one should be left out in fighting HIV/AIDS and that is why the advert was designed for those who would not heed the advice. We live in a patriarchal society and that is why Kenyans have formed stereotypes such as it only men who engage in extra marital affairs therefore they are the only ones entitled to a “wacha mpango wa kando” advert. The duty of using a condom should not be left to men alone but women too should be included. It is everybody’s duty to preach safe sex and HIV/AIDS awareness.

What are your thoughts on this? Should the advert have been pulled out?

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Felister Makandi is an Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). You can connect with her on twitter @makandigitonga and email felistermakandi@yahoo.com

What Will it Really Take to Turn the Tide for Women in Africa and HIV/AIDS?

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By Hannah Ondiek

HIV/AIDS is a major problem in Africa especially for women. As one of the objectives of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, themed “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Bottom up Approach”, HIV/AIDS is given priority as one of the ten focus themes to be addressed.

There has been a considerable amount of work on the HIV/AIDS targets but we still need to see more progress especially in addressing issues like poverty, gender inequality and violence against women which directly and indirectly help in progressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic and increase women’s vulnerability to the pandemic. Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of HIV according to a joint report by UNAIDS/UNFPA/UNIFEM ‘Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis’ and it needs to stop.

Gender and HIV/AIDS

The USAID report on HIV/AIDS Health Profile Sub – Saharan Africa gives a detailed report on the current situation and notes that there is a decline in new infections. This is no cause to celebrate since there is still a lot that can and should be done. For instance the UNAIDS facts include that every minute a young woman is infected with HIV. These figures are alarming since these are our sisters, daughters, teachers, friends, mothers who are part of this statistics and we cannot just ignore them.

According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) we need to have achieved universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all who need it by 2010 and have halted by 2015 and began to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. These targets have clearly not been met by the situation we see on the ground.

The UN Women report on Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012: In pursuit of Justice, stated that there are 33.3 million people globally living with HIV in 2009. Women were 53% of those in developing countries. 80% of all women living with HIV are in Sub – Saharan Africa.

The research by AWID not as simple as ABCD, on Christian fundamentalism and HIV/AIDS responses in Africa noted that in Sub-Saharan Africa, an average of 13 women are newly infected for every 10 men and young African women are up to 6 times more vulnerable to the infection than young men. The UNAIDS Global Report prevalence map gives also details on the pandemic.

Situation of HIV+ Women in Sub-Saharan Africa

Recently, there were reports of forced sterilization of HIV positive women in Namibia and though they had already gone through the irreversible procedure, their voice in winning the case against the government has helped more women come out and speak concerning the same. In Kenya the National Gender and Equality Commission is championing the cause of women who have gone through forced sterilization. It is imperative to note that the issue is not only tied to Namibia, Kenya or specific African nations but is happening to women all across Africa. Though we do not have the real statistics of the situation on the ground we are pleased that the situation was brought to light and advocates can now fight for the rights of women living with HIV whose rights are being violated in this particular case. The major question that lingers and needs addressing is how many more women are going through the same discrimination in other parts of Africa who cannot seek help or speak out? 

Meetings, Reports and Resolutions and a Call To Action!

The report on Turning the Tide for Women, Children and Youth at the 19th International AIDS Conference 22nd – 27th July 2012 noted that the HIV/AIDS burden rests heavily on women and they cannot continue to be ignored three decades into the epidemic.  The UN Resolution on Women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS  also affirms the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as key to ending and reversing the pandemic. The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Angola to the United Nations statement at the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women reiterated the need to act on AIDS especially from a gender perspective. The main point is the reduction of Gender Based Violence and new HIV infection among women particularly young women and girls by 50% by 2015. Another main point was on the reduction of HIV related stigma and cost-effective and gender responsive investments in HIV/AIDS. These are solutions that will help in reducing the spread of the pandemic.

The Harare call to Action on 24th – 25th May 2012 gave a Call to action to different stakeholders in HIV/AIDS including the Civil Society, Women Cultural and Traditional Leaders, Women living with HIV, Parliamentarians, the African Union Commission, and the GlobalPower Women Network Africa. One other important stakeholder is the Faith Based Organizations (FBO’s) which as we know have a major hold in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially women. Here women can find support and encouragement. We need to note that the work is not left only to those mentioned here but all of us have a role to play in this.

Valerie Amos, UN Under – Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator commenting on the Humanitarian Index Report 2011 stated “Donors can play a crucial role by demanding that aid agencies use a comprehensive gender analysis to inform programming. The findings and recommendation from the report deserve thoughtful consideration”. One of the Key Recommendations that I can highlight is the need to make sure gender is fully integrated into needs assessment, donor funding decisions, and programme design and implementation especially in dealing with HIV/AIDS. We also need to include a system of monitoring and evaluation that will help address the challenges and the way forward for HIV/AIDS in Africa from a gender perspective.

We need to educate women on matters affecting them and also speak out on issues like forced sterilization which is one of the worst forms of discrimination against HIV positive women. We should ensure that there is adequate funding to implement and achieve the targets in the MDG’s and in the outcome documents from the multiple meetings relating to HIV/AIDS in Africa especially for women and continue lobbying for the implementation of policies and agreements made to keep the different stakeholders accountable. We need to stop the lip service at meetings where stakeholders meet to meet again and again and not come up with gender responsive solutions.

It needs both a top-down and bottom-up approach since it involves the whole society. It is also needs a multi-sectoral and multi-level approach and You and me have a role to play!!

Hannah Ondiek, is a Communications Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

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