Sex, Culture, and Human Rights: An African Leader Breaks the Silence

A year ago, gender activist and IWHC Board member Josina Machel this brilliant speech a at the 4th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Today’s youth is the largest generation of youth ever: 1.2 billion people worldwide are between the ages of 10 to 19. And another 1.2 billion are between the ages of 0 to 10.

Some 10 million of these young people are living with HIV, 6.2 million of which are African.
These statistics bear repeating because ultimately, it’s about people, not numbers.  And all these people represent the failure in the way we deal with our issues.  We don’t deal with the faces, we deal with the numbers.

In fact, ten years ago I was in a conference here in Ethiopia, and we were discussing gender, HIV, and young people.  The issues we are talking about today are the same ones we were talking about ten years ago.  And the things that we did not talk about ten years ago are still not being discussed today.  If we don’t talk about these underlying issues, we will be in this same room ten years from now.

We can talk about gender, we can talk about HIV education, but when it comes down to it, we tiptoe around the influences our cultures have on our sexualities, in our bedrooms.

It’s about the fact that the moment I get into a bedroom with a man, my culture jumps into bed with us:  Everything I do and think about is influenced by my culture:  Who shuts off the light?  Should I undo his zipper?  As a woman, am I being too forward or should I act more modest?  There is no one in this room that will not tell me that these questions and fears don’t jump into bed with them too.

The second issue that we must address is access to sexual and reproductive health services and information. Seventy-six percent of people living with HIV and AIDS are women, and one-third of all these women are between the ages of 15 and 24.

Something is not right. Somehow, the world is failing to teach young people how to build equality in relations and protect themselves.  We are not taught how to value ourselves enough.  With these statistics, we might as well declare that you failed our generation.

To read and download the entire speech, click here.



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