I am Mayah’s mama, she’s my 4 year old daughter and I draw so much inspiration from being her mother. I intentionally live a life that will make her proud. She is the North in my compass. I am in school for I want her to see me going for my dreams so she knows she can get to the things she want to achieve.
I am the team leader and founding member of Positive Young Women Voices, a community based organization in Nairobi working to advance the gender equity and equality agenda while empowering young women and adolescent girls to live their full potential. I sit at the Kenya Coordinating Mechanism to the Global Fund representing communities and at the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board. Ensuring that our voices are heard is the aim of my advocacy in these platforms.
How is COVID19 affecting youth leadership in the HIV response?
COVID-19 effects are being felt by all in the world. With most people losing their livelihoods and lives, these are hard times. The limited spaces and resources do not make the situation any easier as more of the existing resources are channeled to measures that tackle this epidemic. Young people are still not adequately represented in the decision making platforms and the possibility that our needs are being treated as homogeneous cannot be denied. I think young leaders are having it harder as the digital divide is limiting the opportunities to engage and to influence the work that is taking place. There is no guarantee if you were being funded, there will be renewal of the funding opportunities and if you were not, like us, the possibilities are slim and that is scary to the work that we do and if the gains made will be maintained.
Why does youth leadership in the HIV response still matter?
We understand our issues and needs better and our approach and ideas cannot be watered down. Our perspective is important in ensuring the programmes take into consideration our priorities. The burden of HIV is felt more by young people and especially adolescent girls and young women. If we are not shaping the response, it is bound to fail. We have made some strides in involvement of young people but still, we are a long way from doing right by this group.
What message do you have for young people attending AIDS2020?
I know it is not easy, you will probably have a hard time attending all the sessions as the time zones collide and access to internet might lock some of us out but do all that you can to ensure that your important voice is heard and your priorities included. Let us not get tired or give up. Hope to see you all.
Lucy Wanjiku Njenga, Positive Young Women Voices (Kenya)