World AIDS Day at the White House

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The time to act is now –what does this mean for women and girls?

ATHENA 's Co-Founder and Coordinating Director was invited to speak at the White House on World AIDS Day 2015, with the frame of "getting it done for women and girls globally". Tyler spoke as part of a panel to "highlight both the tremendous gains that have been made and the work that remains toward ending the epidemic".

The message that Tyler brought to the White House is the very simple – but radical – idea that ATHENA manifests, we should be asking those we aim to serve what they want, what they need, what solutions they have, and what would work in the context of their lives.

Women and girl centered design is very simple, and delivers substantive, durable change – but it does require that we all think differently, act differently, challenge our assumptions, and ask questions when we don’t know. World AIDS Day, the 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women – these both remind us that our work is not done and that we can’t afford to slow down. We have the opportunity and the imperative to be engaging women and girls before we begin to formulate our research questions or develop our programs or draft our policies. By doing so, by inviting women and girls inclusive of our diversity to be at the table with a meaningful seat at the table, we will be developing better research protocols – expanding our research teams – growing our knowledge base – crafting smarter policies – and building better programs.

Our HIV response (and broader health and development agendas too) will be all the better for it – and we will simultaneously be building out the capacity of communities to be true partners in contributing to the evidence base, operationalizing what empowerment looks like, and advancing agency and leadership that will have a far greater impact than any one tool or product or program might.

This approach of putting women and girls at the center – and in the driver’s seat – necessitates that we invest in women’s ability to mobilize themselves, in women-led organizations, and in women’s advocacy so that the very people we aim to serve are our partners in the effort from conceptualization through to assessing the impact of our efforts.

This approach requires that we sometimes think small as we aim to be bold so that we might unlock, uncover, and embrace the visions, solutions, and priorities that women hold. Change is an endurance exercise – and necessitates long-term investment. Right now in the HIV response we have a model for what community leadership, community partnership, and the greater involvement of people living with HIV can and does achieve.