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space to celebrate sex and related issues: Southern African Young
Women's Festival (SAYWF)
October 27, 2010
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Southern African Young Women's Festival ran between 25 and
28 October. Young women were brought together to share experiences,
energise each other and celebrate their youth and the potential
they have to advocate for social justice in their respective communities.
The Festival was a platform to equip young women with the practical
skills they need for effective advocacy for women's rights
and included many exciting activities including the launching of
the 16 Days national campaigns of activism. The Festival was supported
most conspicuous element of the sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS session
held on the third-day session of the SAYWF was the energy and enthusiasm
of the young-women, aged between 18 and 30 years. The discussions
followed a talk-show format, where young women from all over Southern
Africa uninhibitedly shared, celebrated and sang their experiences
and insight, occasionally punctuating discussions with their pro-sister
catchphrase "Sister, sister. . . . Sister!"
and openness of expression was exactly the result the organisers
of the SAYWF wanted to achieve. The author, activist and moderator
of this conversation, Luta Shaba pointed out that the spaces where
young women can speak freely on issues of sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS
have become limited. These spaces either no longer exist or have
become sanitised and usurped by other agendas. The space that SAYWF
created for self-expression was fully appreciated by the sisters
In general the
discussions demonstrated that situations and challenges surrounding
sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS are more alike than dissimilar for young
women in the region.
still widely disapprove of premarital sex and the subject of sex
itself is even considered taboo. Openly discussing sex in public
is frowned upon whilst young women who engage in such talk are judged
as badly behaved or promiscuous.
societies expect that young women's knowledge of sex be about
using the information to please the man in their life (or more precisely,
their husbands). For young women who talk about sex in their work,
it is difficult to find the appropriate language or terminology
in the vernacular. It is tough to convey their messages without
coming across as lewd. The discussion on why young women have sex
showed that economic exchange is a common reason, whether as prostitution
or simple survival. Anny Modi from the Democratic Republic of Congo
explained that young women in the DRC are even willing to have unprotected
sex with an HIV positive man, in order to earn more money, knowing
full-well the man's status.
also brought to the fore the fact that young women today are dealing
with issues unique to them with regards sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS.
Take for instance their definition of sex. The sisters agreed that
the act might be done with half-a-man or could include an infinite
number of participants. There was also vigorous debate on the understanding
of masculinity and femininity and a strong departure from convention
was evident. One young woman even took issue with the Festival's
pink and purple branding, which she perceived to be stereotypical
It was interesting to see how the Festival also
became a space for the young women to vent their frustrations and
anger on issues around sex. This was directed at all quarters, from
men who were said to be selfish during sex, to governments that
fail to alleviate poverty, forcing women into risky sexual behaviour
in order to make a living. An aspect that also caused great outrage
and is prevalent throughout the region is that of men sleeping with
children in the belief that this would cure them of HIV. This was
seen as a major reason for intergenerational transmissions.
Chirenje of the Zimbabwe Young Women's Network for Peace Building
described a specific billboard
campaign that had angered activists and women in general. One
posed the question "who else is dipping their fingers into
your honey pot?" Whilst the other billboard asked with whom
else was their mistress sleeping with? Women at the gathering expressed
feeling insulted by the advertisements, which completely ignored
the role of men in the spread of the HIV virus.
on HIV/AIDS were especially poignant as statistics show that teenage
girls and young women are the largest population infected with the
virus. Concerns about the disease were again similar across all
participating nations. For example, the issue of older women physically
abusing young women frequently arose. Older women believe that young
women have extramarital affairs with their husbands and bring HIV/AIDS
into their homes. In Mozambique, it's been reported that men
prefer to get tested in secret, without their partners. They often
travel to neighbouring South Africa to be tested and their HIV status
remains a mystery to their partners.
from Namibia explained that numerous HIV positive women in her country
have been sterilised without their consent during childbirth. The
doctors who did this based their actions on the fact that the women
had more than three children and would not want any more due to
their HIV status.
the sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS session of the Festival did not
ignore the personal development of the individual participants.
The knowledge of self, on every level, from the physical to the
spiritual, was highly emphasised. Sisters were given the opportunity
to reflect on and discuss such things as what they love and loathe
about sex as well as their how and when preferences. There was also
a discussion on young women's understanding of sensuality,
which came with a lesson in seduction from the Queen of Sheba. The
young women were strongly encouraged to identify and claim their
own power as women, all of which was related to their sensuality.
of Young Women's
Leadership Initiative in Zimbabwe chose to articulate herself
through a poem entitled "My Tired Vagina".
almost always puts young women, their views and their needs last,
even behind those of their younger brothers. In contrast, the SAYWF
session on sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS gave this group of vibrant
young women top-billing on their platform to shine and express themselves.
The discussion emphasised and fostered the need for knowledge of
self that comes with self-understanding and acceptance. These are
key to young women making better day-to-day decisions and life choices.
Wanki Womba of Zambia
said that the gathering was enriching and enlightening and was definitely
something that she would like to implement back home.
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