I am a Cameroonian but I live in Nairobi, Kenya, where I work with ActionAid International in the Africa regional office as the Africa regional coordinator for HIV and AIDS. I manage the regional HIV/ AIDS activities and collabo- rate with a range of stakeholders to advocate for the right to life and dignity for people. particularly women and girls, living with and affected by the pandemic.
Injustice and discrimination are two things I detest and always challenge. In my private and public space, I have refused to accept cultural norms of what is masculine and feminine which our patriarchal society has for so long used to ensure that women are marginalised and prevented from achieving their full potentials. From the per- spective of HIV/AIDS these inequalities have made women and girls more vulnerable to infection and bear the brunt of the pandemic. Ensuring women’s issues are addressed from prevention to care and support is the main focus of my work.
The term “feminism” is still largely misunderstood in Africa, with many people still perceiving it as a foreign concept. Others have used this excuse to negatively label and discredit the dedicated sisters who have committed to challenging the status quo and to defending the rights of all women. As a result, while there are many African women who struggle to challenge men’s power in their day to day life and in their own little ways, few are willing to call themselves feminists. Also as women make gains in challenging patriarchal power, some men have responded by trying to re-entrench their power. We can see that in the whole shift to a discourse on “male involvement” and working with men. This is moving resources away from women-focused projects and putting them back, once again, in the hands of men.
I am unapologetic about what I do and why I do what I do. Working in the field of HIV/AIDS you can justify the health or service arguments using statistics. Yet we still find ourselves having to justify why we need to challenge patriarchy if we are to win the war on HIV and AIDS- as if the statistics don’t show us that more women are infected than men, or that women and girls are taking on the burden of care and support work, often at great cost to their own well-being. In my experience, mobilising positive women and linking them up with other women’s rights activists and structures, has been life transforming. Women have found their personal will to stand up and be counted by refusing to be victims and mere spectators in a world of inequality. They realise that rights are never given – they are claimed. Every achievement in advancing the rights of women, however small, is cause for celebration and fuel to continue the fight.