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   ATHENA Network Quarterly Update

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It is another exciting quarter for ATHENA as we share this update with our friends, supporters and stakeholders. It is a critical moment when there is great attention to women and girls' health and rights on the global development agenda, and as we look forward to these opportunities, we are glad to share what we have been up to for these past months. 

If you have any questions or ideas you would like to share please email Jacqui at jacqui@athenanetwork.org.

Civil Society Hearing on the High Level Meeting on AIDS (HLM)

The President of the UN General Assembly convened an informal interactive civil society hearing on 6 April 2016. This is a forum to engage civil society organizations in the process of developing recommendations for the HLM to guide and monitor the HIV response. The CSO hearing is also attended by representatives of Member states and other stakeholders. ATHENA joined in the panels and discussions prior to, and during, the CSO hearing. In partnership and consultation with women’s civil society, we also developed an advocacy brief highlighting 5 priorities for women: meaningful and sustained investment in women-led civil society; a research agenda that is driven and led by women; gender equality, human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all women in all of our diversity; young women's leadership; and comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly services.

Our partner L’Orangelis Thomas Negron gave the opening remarks at the session, and called for meaningful inclusion and engagement of young women living with HIV. She highlighted that access to information and services by young women is key for them to realize and enjoy their rights, including SRHR. ATHENA was represented in the meeting by Teresia Otieno and Ebony Johnson. Teresia gave a presentation during the Innovation introduction panel, calling for a research agenda driven by women,emphasizing the need to meaningfully involve women and girls in all their diversity at all stages of research design and delivery; investing in women’s capacity, institutions and advocacy work; and direct funding to women’s and young women’s organizations, especially at the community level.

WHO Consultation meeting in Geneva

ATHENA took part in a meeting hosted by the WHO on Lessons from Sexual and Reproductive Health Programming to Catalyze HIV Prevention for Young Women at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva, in April.

The meeting sought to explore the on-going challenges facing young women and adolescent girls in relation to the on-going high rates of new HIV acquisition among this age group. Globally, adolescent girls aged 10-19 account of 62% of new HIV acquisition, and in sub-Saharan Africa this percentage rises to 72%. The meeting explored the current policy landscape and biomedical interventions and opportunities for addressing the SRHR and HIV needs and rights of young women and adolescent girls. It further explored emerging examples of good and promising practice from the fields of gender based and intimate partner violence; accurate and appropriate sexuality education; comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights; and, creating safe and supportive environments. ATHENA brought to the meeting learning from our Young Women’s Leadership Initiative and the LINK UP project, framed by the priorities of the Voices, Visions and Priorities consultation on young people’s SRHR and HIV.

WHO Bulletin

The World Health Organization(WHO) published a bulletin validating the participatory research approach undertaken by ATHENA and partners for the largest international survey to date on the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and human rights of women living with HIV. The survey was commissioned by the WHO in 2014 as part of a global “values and preferences” consultation to begin updating the 2006 WHO Guidelines on the SRH of women living with HIV. 

The survey, which contained mandatory and optional questions, was based on an appreciative enquiry approach in which the life-cycle experiences of women living with HIV were investigated. It had been developed by a core reference group representing a wide range of national, regional and global organizations of women living with HIV – including adolescents and elderly women and transgender, lesbian, bisexual and other women who have sex with women – and a wide range of experiences – including perinatal transmission, sexual violence or rape, co-morbidities of tuberculosis and/or hepatitis C, current or previous use of drugs and prison or detention. The survey placed the voices of women living with HIV at the start of the development of new global guidelines; an approach which could be replicated in the development of guidelines for many other health considerations. 

The findings have been published in the report, Building a Safe House on Firm Ground, and reveal the extent of gender based violence and mental health challenges experienced by women living with HIV, and the impact these have on their lives. The report was also published in the Journal of Virus Eradication.

MenEngage blog post: Engendering Accountability

ATHENA contributed to MenEngage's blog series on partnerships and accountability, with a post on Engendering Accountability authored by Jacqui Stevenson. The post considers how men can be meaningful allies in the gender justice movement, and offers a series of reflections and recommendations for accountable involvement.

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

ATHENA participated in the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, which took place in New York City from 14-25 March, 2016. Our team participated in the inaugural CSW Youth Forum, and spoke at side-events and panel discussions throughout the week on gender equality, criminalization of women in all of our diversity, women’s empowerment, and the intersection of HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender-based violence agendas. The ATHENA team, collaborating with the Young Feminist Caucus, was fundamental to ensuring that the first CSW Youth Declaration held strong commitments to women and girls on SRHR and HIV, and addressed intersectional issues for women in all of their diversity. Gender equality is a cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and as such, the CSW was the first opportunity to make the links between gender equality and health, HIV, SRHR, and GBV an explicit part of the new development landscape. Read the full report here.

Women Deliver Conference
ATHENA participated in the Women Deliver conference, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in May 2016. We brought the #WhatWomenWant campaign to the conference, with many young advocates adding their tweets, selfies and videos to the campaign. The conference itself was an opportunity for ATHENA to engage in wider gender spaces as well as bringing our core focus on HIV and SRHR to bear in these discussions. We participated as part of a Link Up delegation, with global youth advocates who led and participated in sessions on meaningful youth involvement and youth advocacy.

LINK UP Closeout Meetings

ATHENA has been participating in LINK UP reflection and dissemination meetings in Nairobi, Yangon and Washington DC. In particular, the meetings have been an opportunities to showcase the leadership and priorities of young people involved in different aspects of the project. Meaningful engagement of young people – as outlined in the AIMING HIGH document co-developed by ATHENA and GYCA – framed the meetings. The meetings also explored other of the unique contributions LINK UP has made towards advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people living with HIV and from key affected populations. These include enhancing rights-based service delivery, especially for very young adolescents through the Safeguarding Rights tool developed by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance; Marie Stopes’ innovations around quality integrated SRHR and HIV services, tailored to the needs of young people from key populations; research carried out by the Population Council into the needs and aspirations of young men who have sex with men, sex workers, and young people living with HIV, as well as research around gender norms; and ATHENA’s mentoring programme for youth advocates: Step Up, Link Up, Speak Up, developed with support from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and GYCA.

The two regional meetings held in Nairobi and Yangon both included two-day pre-meetings coordinated by ATHENA and GYCA for youth advocates from all five LINK UP countries to reflect on the successes and challenges of LINK UP and their priorities moving forward. In addition, the meetings provided a space for youth advocates to continue to engage in global advocacy. In Nairobi, youth advocates joined ATHENA’s #WhatWomenWant  campaign in the lead up to the HLM (See below). In Yangon, young people held a validation meeting to explore and deepen findings around a recent ATHENA and GYCA-led consultation, and separate issue briefs were developed for PrEP, self testing and adolescent access to HIV services.

The meetings also provided an opportunity to look beyond the closing chapter of the LINK UP project to national, regional and global opportunities to build on the foundations that the LINK UP project has established. Reports from both meetings will be forthcoming.  

#WhatWomenWant Campaign and Consultation

ATHENA, with support from UNAIDS and women’s civil society, launched a virtual #WhatWomenWant Campaignto galvanize momentum for women’s rights toward the High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS and the International AIDS Conference. #WhatWomenWant is a multi-pronged consultation with an objective to determine women’s and girls’ priorities for the next five years and beyond of the HIV response. We have carried out a number of activities to involve women and girls around the world in the consultation, through a range of different media including weekly Twitter Chats, open access email dialogues, a photo and video project, and the Young Feminist Blog Series. We have convened a working group of thought leaders to guide, amplify and help deepen our thinking and analysis around women issues.

Building on the 2011 consultation undertaken by ATHENA leading up to the High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS of that year, the consultation is rooted in the In Women’s Words action agenda, and informs a way of working and coordinating as women’s and girls’ rights champions regionally and globally through a re-ignited leadership platform. The #WhatWomenWant hashtag has now reached approximately 14 million people in the Twitter-sphere with the visions, voices, and solutions of women and young women.  The photos and video making strong calls for gender equality, comprehensive sex education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and inclusion in decision making bodies and spaces have come in from 40 countries across 5 regions.

To maintain focus on women and girls across global conversations, we also participated in IMAXI Cooperative’s ‘WHO4ALL’, a series of “Speak-Up Sessions” and discussions on key issues related to the World Health Assembly in Geneva from 23 - 28 May. Led by Teresia Otieno, ATHENA co-moderated an online session on 23 May as a component of the #WhatWomenWant campaign.

High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS

The High Level Meeting on AIDS (HLM) was held in June 8th- 10th in New York City. Governments from UN member states, civil society, and activists from around the world met to negotiate and agree on the Political Declaration on AIDS. The HLM reviewed the progress since the 2011 Political Declaration including successes, challenges and gaps. This year’s declaration presents important gains for women and girls with its attention to gender inequality, youth participation, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and addressing gender based and sexual violence as key drivers of HIV. The drafting and negotiation process for the document however, was controversially closed to some civil society organizations, namely key populations, and as such civil society released a parallel Political Declaration in protest, which calls for a human-rights based HIV response for all people that leaves no one behind.

ATHENA team members and partners attended and participated in various panels and side events; we also hosted a #WhatWomenWant breakfast meeting in collaboration with partners in the campaign and with support from UNAIDS, to map the political landscape of what is needed to advance a leadership platform on gender equality.