Voices from ENDA Santé and ARASA Partners Attending AIDS 2016

Posted by ARASA on July 15, 2016

Voices from ENDA Santé and ARASA Partners Attending AIDS 2016

Irene Garoës Irene.jpg

As a feminist youth activist as well as young black lesbian woman, it is exciting for me to be attending AIDS 2016 this year for several reasons. Usually spaces such as this tend to be challenging because you often feel like your issues are overlooked when they should, in fact, be addressed.
For example, the language used to describe the most vulnerable groups to be infected by HIV, key populations, can at times be very excluding of groups such as women who sleep with women or lesbian women. The reasons given for this are mostly due to the belief that sex between two women uses less fluids and, as a result, their risk is considered to be low and therefore response towards the young lesbian women needs are overlooked. A risk is still a risk.

Moreover LGBTQ people are discriminated and stigmatised just by being who they are and, this in itself, is a risk. LGBTQ people experience rights abuses from, for example, not being able to seek medical services to being raped or killed. Therefore, I see spaces like this as an opportunity to voice and name different kinds of oppressions and realities women go through.

I work with a feminist organisation called Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) in Namibia. We work with the most marginalised group of people in Namibia, young indigenous San women, women who live under customary law and young lesbian women. All of these groups of women are subjected to extreme poverty and high vulnerability to HIV/AIDS due to harmful cultural practices, poverty and stigma and discrimination just to name the few.

More than anything I am looking to learn as much as I can about the progress that has been made in the fields of HIV/Aids and TB responses and treatment and new initiatives to work within our communities. As this is the single most attended conference on HIV/AIDS, I am also excited to make valuable and insightful networks with various individuals and organisations and to build more sustainable relations with like-minded people.

I am definitely making it a point to bring back everything and share as much as I will with the women I work with. With this year’s theme of Equity, Access and rights I am passionate about the inclusion of young women’s realities with regards to the HIV epidemic pointing to the fact of different gendered experiences that we go through. I am also looking forward to the workshops. The fact that the conference comes back to Africa, South Africa in particular is an opportunity in itself.

I want to leave the conference knowing that I have learned something new, that’s relevant to today’s challenges to the response and how the other external drivers of the epidemic can be minimised.