Christine got off the airplane in Ethiopia ready to be heard. It was her first time traveling out of her home country, Zambia, and her first time attending the International Conference on HIV and STIs in Africa.
Christine came to Africa's largest conference on HIV/AIDS equipped with a unique perspective: women can’t practice safe sex if they are not empowered to speak up.
"HIV/AIDS and gender based violence goes hand-in-hand in our community. A woman may become infected because she was raped or abused," said Christine, who works as the coordinator of Central Action on HIV/AIDS (CAHA) based in Kabwe, a rural community of Lukanga Swamps, central Zambia. "When you see how women and girls suffer in silence, you realize they really need a voice."
Christine explains that abuse of women in Zambia is relentless, systematic and tolerated. Women can’t depend on the government for protection. CAHA invites police officers to community meetings to hear first hand how women are affected by violence. Afterwards, they become more sensitive to the ways violence destroys communities and leads to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Global Fund for Women supported Christine to attend the conference, where she shared this strategy and others with thousands of activists, government representatives and international health officials.
"The experience was thrilling," said Christine. "It's beautiful to meet other people who share your same experience."
The "other" people Christine met included the Zambian Ambassador to Ethiopia, who introduced her to The First Lady of Zambia. After years of working to connect with her own government, this cross continental trip put her face-to-face with her First Lady.
After their conversation, the first lady agreed to attend CAHA's strategic planning session back in Zambia. Christine is elated to have the opportunity to partner with her government to increase funding for CAHA’s programs.
On the other side of the conference, Nancy from grantee partner, SWAA-Ghana, was meeting with activists and representatives of the Ghanaian government to discuss how to engage and lobby her government to increase its commitment to ending HIV/AIDs.
Discussions lasted late into the evening and resulted in recommendations to increase government funding to HIV/AIDS organizations, including adding ARV treatment to the national health insurance.
At the end of the conference, Nancy and Christine connected as peers, Global Fund grantee partners, and women working to end HIV/AIDS in their communities. Nancy invited Christine and members of CAHA to attend SWAA-Ghana’s annual meeting to share strategies on fighting HIV/AIDS and gender based violence. Over 50 percent of Global Fund’s support in Africa goes to women’s groups who are addressing the linkage between HIV and gender-based violence.
“We have a passion for better lives for women and a passion for the visions of our organizations,” said Nancy as she reflected on her new friendship with Christine and other conference participants.