Blog Jael van der Heijden: ‘Because we are all humans’

My first day at the International Aids Conference 2018, I am a panelist at the pre-conference on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV linkages. The panels topic is on how to foster collaboration between the two.

We hear perspectives from the feminist activist approach and from people living with HIV approach. My plea in the panel is for a human centered design approach. Because in the first place we are all humans. So let’s start from there!

For example, 16 year old Olivia from the outskirts of Nairobi. Like all teenage girls, she has many things going on in her life. Her dream is to start a beauty parlour, inspired by many of the Nigerian soaps she watches on YouTube. But she also dropped out of school when she got pregnant and she now lives with her family, including her 1 year old son. For a young person as Olivia words like ‘SRHR’ or ‘HIV’ and let alone funding streams are not so relevant. She is more thinking about how she can get some sponsors to earn money to make her dream a reality. So giving her a self-injectable and tick the box of ‘uptake of service’ for our donors, will not necessarily bring her closer to her dream. Only until she understands she is also running a high risk of HIV infection from her sponsors – read: older men she has sex with and that give her things like a mobile and sometimes money.

Unless we actually spent more time to understand Olivia and also empower her to reflect on her own ambitions and challenges in life, we are not really making sustainable change for her.

So, collaboration also means co-creating our programs together with local partners and young people, as they are the experts that know what is going on, and will bring sustainable change.

The conclusion of the panel was that to counter the opposition that is not in favor of free sexual choices for everyone, we need to start framing our message different. We need to empower local communities and engage with the general public more. In a language that resonates with them, that is simple, emotional and taps into their values.

Every AIDS conference always has a certain theme that emerges during the week. That sets the agenda for the years to come, and that helps to make a next step in ending AIDS. I would not be surprised if the theme of this conference will turn out to be ‘framing our message different’. So that we succeed in getting local communities and the general public engaged in our last push to end AIDS, and prove the opposition wrong.

Jael van der Heijden, directeur-bestuurder Dance4Life