This year, the commemoration of the adoption of the South African Constitution 25 five years ago coincides with HIVSA’s 20th Anniversary celebration. The Constitution enshrines the rights of all South Africans and upholds the values of dignity, equality and freedom. As a non- governmental organisation working in the HIV space for 20 years, HIVSA reflects on how these values are still far from reach for those infected or affected by HIV.
Stigma and discrimination continue to plague individuals living with HIV. Despite more than two decades of AIDS activism, People Living with HIV(PLHIV) do not feel free to disclose their HIV status and live with dignity in their communities. Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) remain disproportionately affected and infected by HIV in South Africa. Gender inequality, harmful social norms, unequal access to education and economic opportunities exacerbates this situation, further predisposing AGYW to HIV infection. While numerous HIV prevention interventions are targeted at AGYW the lack of access to financial resources and high unemployment leaves AGYW with little choice than to engage in harmful sexual practices to meet their basic needs.
Although the adoption of our Constitution in 1997 allowed for the Freedom of Movement, the freedom to access sexual and reproductive health education and services by adolescents and youth is far from being realised. Judgement from health care workers and family members often results in preventable Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) including HIV, unplanned pregnancies, illegal and harmful termination of pregnancy practices and ultimately the repetition of the cycle of HIV infection.
HIVSA continues to implement programmes that impact a number of these socio- economic and health factors; however, much work is yet to be done for the complete realisation of human rights for PLHIV and vulnerable populations within South Africa. As we embark on the next 20 years of our existence, we commit to ensuring dignity, equality and freedom through ongoing community engagement and collaboration, local capacity building and advancing the rights and recognition of girls and women in the pursuit of gender equality in our country.