Mujeres Adelante:
Bringing ‘new voices’ to the table…

We have come to the SVRI Forum 2009 with the hope of seeing an even further expanded conversation amongst researchers, policy makers, community stakeholders, and women’s rights advocates around the many causes and consequences of sexual violence, and its linkages to HIV and AIDS risks and vulnerabilities. It is within the context of acknowledging the need to create mechanisms by which women, particularly women living with HIV, can be heard, and thus can debate and shape research, policy, and programmes – that we bring to the SVRI Forum our newsletter, the Mujeres Adelante, as a tool of conversation from, by, and with a diverse range of stakeholders at the intersection of women’s rights and HIV.

At the SVRI, we find ourselves at a provocative forum for research, deliberation, and debate – and yet, we recognise that so many who are critical to understanding, addressing, and halting the epidemics of both sexual violence and HIV in South Africa and globally, are unable to participate, engage, and benefit from the proceedings. We hope that this newsletter will be ‘a vehicle’ – to bridge gaps, frame debates, disseminate findings, and bring new perspectives to the table.

What are the debates that we wish to see carried forward here at the SVRI Forum; what are the ‘voices’ we want to highlight; and what are some of the questions we hope to gain and share new insights around?

How are we to understand, and adequately respond to, violence as a cause and consequence of HIV infection? How do we reconcile the epidemiological research to date, or lack thereof, around the role of sexual violence in driving the HIV epidemic, especially with reference to ‘rape as a weapon of war’?

Also, can we understand and engage with the practice of coercive sterilisation of HIV positive women as an issue of violence? And what about the many HIV positive women claiming their sexual and reproductive rights, including choosing to be mothers, who are met with abuse and derision by healthcare providers; as well as the many pregnant HIV positive women who are referred to as ‘suicide bombers’ in everyday slang – do we understand this as violence?

There is also the question whether or not ‘violence’, intrinsic to legislative trends criminalising mother-to-child HIV transmission, should prominently feature in debate and discourse at the intersection of women’s rights, violence, and HIV?

How do we advance and understand violence against women as a right to health issue; and the violence faced by HIV positive women as a women’s rights priority? What do we learn by focusing on sexual violence; and how do we understand the role of research in the design of policies and programmes meant to reduce women’s risks and vulnerabilities?

Where are the opportunities for partnering with men to advance gender equity and women’s empowerment, and in so doing to address gender-based violence at its cause?

What traction do we gather by limiting our views? How do we stand back to look at the ‘messy’ web of issues that, at their root cause, all interrelate and intersect – whether it be the violence faced by lesbian women in South Africa, or the use of ‘rape as a weapon of war’, or the violence HIV positive women face and fear, when disclosing their status?

And, there also seems to be the ‘over-arching’ question of how do we maintain and advance, as well as reflect in policies and programmes, an understanding of sexuality and sexual rights that is indeed ‘empowering’ and freely enjoyable for all individuals, irrespective of their sex, gender, sexual orientation and/or HIV status?

And so, we enter the SVRI Forum 2009 seeking insights into how to engage with, and find answers to these questions; and how to find ‘cross roads’, where rigorous research, academic analysis, forward looking policy, robust service delivery, and community activism can meet – and collectively identify ways of ‘Moving Forward’; Mujeres Adelante.