Generation Now: A Q&A with Jasmine George on Integration of SRHR & HIV/AIDS
This month, Women Deliver and the International AIDS Society are joining forces for Generation Now: Our Health, Our Rights. This partnership connects the dots between HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the particular needs of adolescents and young women.
From the Generation Now pre-conference in Amsterdam to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada, this exciting partnership aims to unite advocates, young leaders, academics, funders, policy makers, frontline healthcare workers, and others to advocate for youth friendly, integrated HIV and SRHR policies to shape systems and services that deliver for adolescents. Women Deliver Young Leader, Jasmine Lovely George, founder of Hidden Pockets, a mapping platform for sexual and reproductive services for young people in India is bringing her expertise as a core group member of the Generation Now partnership.
1. Women Deliver: Can you tell us about your work as a young advocate in India?
Jasmine: I serve as a Coordinator of Knowledge Production with Hidden Pockets Collective, a feminist collective that curates services related to sexual and reproductive health across seven cities in India. We focus on health services used by young people, people from the LGBTIQ community, and any others who are looking for sound, reliable, and accurate information. In recent years, we have worked closely with women’s organizations, LGBTIQ people, HIV positive networks, young feminist groups, children’s rights groups, and data and Internet organizations. In addition to conducting research on sexual and reproductive health in cities of Global South, we organize workshops at schools, colleges, tech groups, and others on SRHR and gender-sensitization in an effort to make theses spaces more diverse and inclusive.
2. Women Deliver: Too often, HIV and sexual and reproductive health care are offered as separate services. As someone on the frontlines helping to deliver the services, what is the challenge and the consequence of this siloed approach to care?
Jasmine: The number of girls born with HIV in India has increased over the last few decades. Today, India ranks third in the world for the highest number of HIV positive girls. These girls were either born with HIV or have contracted it through a partner. Although millions of girls here are living with HIV, they remain invisible. They are rarely talked about during discussions on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Their needs are often overlooked and their health never becomes a priority for government authorities or in urban planning efforts.
Across India, very few people are aware of HIV treatment centers. Due to stigma surrounding HIV, people rarely get themselves tested when undergoing a sexual health check-up. Hospitals and public health system keep the two areas of sexual health and HIV separate, and there never seems to be any conversation, let alone, coordination, between these two sides. This prevents people – especially young people – from taking a sex positive approach toward their body by refusing to engage in conversations or action around Sexually Transmitted infections (STIs).
3. Women Deliver: Please tell us about your efforts to integrate the delivery of HIV and SRHR services -- What changes have you seen as a result and what are the next steps to driving further progress?
Jasmine: At Hidden Pockets, we aim to provide health services for young people in their cities. We want young people to make informed choices about their bodies and health and we want to help them make decisions free of fear and stigma. With regard to taboos attached to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, we aim to lighten the conversations by discussing pleasure and options for safe sex including actually showing young people the places where quality and affordable services can be accessed.
I am now in the process of launching a project in Bangalore, India to work with Positive Women Network, which is comprised of mothers of young girls who are born with HIV. As part of this, I am working with young positive girls who are helping me to conduct community mapping of public health clinics in the Bangalore area. Together, we are creating a list of friendly service providers in the city who are willing to talk about sexual and reproductive lives of young positive girls and can help make access to sexual and reproductive health and rights easier. In collaboration with young positive girls and service providers, I plan to create a digital map that will integrate HIV and sexual health and reduce stigma against HIV and sexual health services. Though this effort, we hope young people can better access quality services and build a community of service providers can become advocates for marginalized groups and take accountability for their health as well.
When we began mapping the clinics that provide abortion services along with HIV Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) centers, there was some initial resistance. People did not want these two services to be seen in the same location due to fear, stigma, and misinformation. To manage this, we had to adjust the language we used when speaking about the services provided. We realised that once we could change the narrative, people would recognize the need for access to information and services related to both and that the previous messaging was creating fear. This is true for a lot of messaging on healthcare and its impact on access. Especially when speaking about "sensitive topic" like the integration of SRHR and HIV, we need to work together across the public health sector to understand and address the taboos attached to these services in the Global South context.
4. Women Deliver: In addition to being a Women Deliver Young Leader, you also serve as a core group member of the Generation Now partnership. What is your role in this partnership and what do you hope to accomplish through this platform?
Jasmine: Generation Now’s Core Group has been informing the development of the meeting program. More than half this group is made up of young people under 30, including some of my fellow esteemed Women Deliver Young Leaders. It has truly been a privilege to help shape this pivotal moment when we come together to connect the dots between HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the particular needs of adolescents and young women. We are all excited to create momentum and move the needle for girls’ and women’s health, rights, and wellbeing.
As part of the member of the Generation Now Partnership, I aim to steer conversations around sexuality to a place where young people focus on their overall wellbeing and see their right to health as part of an inclusive and sex positive framework. This partnership aims to bring together advocates working across related movements – SRHR, HIV/AIDS, gender equality – and strives to create a comprehensive approach towards sexuality. The focus is on being collaborative and inclusive rather than competing and continuing to focus on the differences between our work.
5. Women Deliver: As a Women Deliver Young Leader, and member of the Hidden Pockets Collective, you have extensive experience leading advocacy initiative and showing the power of meaningful youth engagement in action. What is your advice to other young advocates seeking to create change in their communities —particularly those focused on HIV and SRHR services?
Jasmine: Across the globe, youth are standing up to demand comprehensive and accurate HIV and sexual and reproductive health education alongside convenient, supportive, confidential, and stigma-free health services. Young people want to see policies that recognize and treat them as a whole person. At the end of the day, young people are their own best advocates because they understand the barriers to accessing HIV and SRH services better than anyone.
I want other young advocates to recognize that it is important to raise the voices of your own communities to the forefront. This has its own power and magic. While it is important to strengthen and leverage advocacy efforts at International level, we also have to continue community advocacy – we can then amplify and echo that language across different international platforms.
6. Women Deliver: Achieving Universal Health Coverage with integrated services will require the commitment of many different stakeholders from policy makers and donors to researchers and front line health workers. What is your one message to these decision makers to catalyze change?
Jasmine: The only way to create strong economies is to ensure that we have happy and healthy citizens.