Foundation Ambassador Taking A Stand for Young Women

By Jane Coaston | October 25, 2012

Kate Thomson, UNAIDS Chief for Community Mobilization and Cristina Peña

UNAIDS

Foundation Ambassador Cristina Peña has become a champion for the rights of women and girls living with HIV around the world. From leading sessions on the needs of HIV-positive young people at the International AIDS Conference this summer to participating in sessions on youth and HIV/AIDS at the White House, Cristina is a powerful voice for change. And this past September, Cristina joined other women born with HIV from around the world in Geneva, Switzerland.

Cristina and eight other young women from around the world met in Geneva to share their experiences and talk about their hopes for the future and the needs of women and girls living with HIV. Organized by Kate Thomson, UNAIDS Chief for Community Mobilization, the overall goals of the meeting were to create a platform and a statement for women living with HIV since birth. “We talked about ‘Generation Free’ – what does this idea means to us?” Cristina said. “Countries and leaders are invested in the Global Plan to end pediatric HIV by 2015—what does this goal mean to [us] as the first-generation of children born with HIV, and now as young women who might become mothers? If we could have the best world tomorrow for HIV-positive women, what would it look like?”

The group featured women from the United States, South Sudan, Ukraine, Namibia, Zambia, the United Kingdom, and Kenya, and their discussions focused on the differing needs of women from different communities and recognizing how prejudice and discrimination against young women living with HIV compromises women’s health. “It was eye-opening to hear about the limited access to treatment and ARV options in certain countries,” Cristina said, remembering that the delegate from South Sudan had to travel to Uganda for treatment. “It was a reminder of how fortunate I am, and how universal access is a human right.”

After hours of discussion over three days (and nighttime outings for fondue and crispy bread), the group developed a statement that included an overall vision and objectives for future efforts. “We wanted it to be raw and reflective of our voices as young women – not necessarily as a formal document by writers or policy makers,” Cristina said. The statement, entitled “Our Dreams,” which you can read here, is incredibly powerful, sharing the hopes and dreams of young women born with HIV who are becoming strong, independent adults. “We would like the world to recognize that there is a generation of children with HIV becoming adults – professionals, leaders, parents- and that it’s important that this population is part of the dialogue to create a generation free of HIV,” Cristina said. “We’re here, we’re not invisible, we exist.” Cristina said that the statement was precisely what the group intended. “When we shared it with everyone, some of the women cried. It hit a tone in all of us, it really resonated. This is exactly what we want and we stand behind this statement.”

Cristina says that the statement is intended to be a “jumping-off point” for future action. The group is working on a document to help spur advocates from the countries represented at the meeting to take action, and UNAIDS is completing a report documenting the meeting and work produced. Cristina is looking forward to a follow-up call with the other participants in the meeting to talk about how to share the statement and its message.

Congratulations to Cristina on her continuing commitment to the needs of young people living with HIV, and to the group tasked with creating such an important message. We couldn’t be more proud!

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.