As we enter the fourth decade of HIV/AIDS, the global face of this epidemic is increasingly young and female.
Today, women account for more than half of all people living with HIV.
That’s why the Levi Strauss Foundation is partnering with the HIV Young Leaders Fund (HYLF) to support local youth activists who are responding to the epidemic with courage and vigor.
In the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, Natasha, 19, is working to establish a community drop-in center that will help women improve their quality of life through access to health care, childcare, job skills training, and legal services.
She’s a member of Ganesha, a youth organization that partners with HYLF to support young women affected by HIV in Bishkek city.
Through HYLF, young leaders like Natasha obtain intensive training, mentoring, and financial support to confront the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV, which is pervasive among governments, institutions and communities across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
HIV continues to expand in these regions more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. No doubt, an effective response must target those who are most affected by the disease, particularly young women who use drugs.
Instead, Natasha says, government policies fuel the spread of the disease by criminalizing and excluding these populations. Stigma prevents these highly vulnerable groups from accessing HIV prevention and treatment.
Her colleague Selbi points out:”Young women in Eastern Europe are sometimes denied access to health services, particularly if they use drugs. They face harassment from the police and state institutions that are supposed to protect them.”
Natasha hopes that Ganesha can soon obtain a permit to open the drop-in center in Bishkek city.
“I want young women in Eastern Europe to know their HIV status,” she says. “And I want them to understand and defend their rights. At the end of the day, we deserve to live full lives – just like everyone else.”
Learn more about HIV Young Leaders Fund, third place winner of the LSF’s 60th Anniversary Community Vote, here: