Executive Director, Frontline AIDS
Christine Stegling, Executive Director of Frontline AIDS
Christine Stegling is Executive Director of Frontline AIDS, an alliance of 34 NGOs across 28 countries with their roots in the community response to HIV.
A leading actor in the HIV response, Ms Stegling has worked for over 20 years in international development, human rights and HIV. Prior to heading Frontline AIDS she was the Executive Director of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC).
Christine lived in Botswana for 10 years, working initially for the Ministry of Health, then as a lecturer at the University of Botswana, and for eight years as the director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA).
“As a human rights activist fighting for rights related to HIV, marginalisation and gender equality and as a woman leader in the HIV movement, it was an obvious decision for me to become a SheDecides Champion. As a mother, auntie and feminist, I feel that being a Champion for SheDecides embodies the lessons and values I’m conveying to my own daughter and other girls and young women in my life; helping to safeguard their right to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures.”
As thousands of people converge upon Amsterdam for the International AIDS Conference, this week the spotlight is upon SheDecides Champion Christine Stegling, the Executive Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.Christine explains: “An environment that upholds, protects and respects the rights of all people, helps to prevent new HIV infections and enable those living with HIV in all their diversity to live full and productive lives.”
Read the full interview below.
Tell us briefly why you are passionate about being involved with SheDecides?
As a human rights activist fighting for rights related to HIV, marginalisation and gender equality, and as a woman leader in the HIV movement, it was an obvious decision for me to become a SheDecides Champion. As a mother, auntie and feminist, I feel that being a Champion for SheDecides embodies the lessons and values I’m conveying to my own daughter and other girls and young women in my life; helping to safeguard their right to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures.
During this volatile time where women’s rights and our ability to end AIDS by 2030 is being threatened, the expanded Mexico City Policy has added significance to dis-integrate HIV responses from comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights approaches.
Evidence shows that good access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and an environment that upholds, protects and respects the rights of all people, helps to prevent new HIV infections and enable those living with HIV in all their diversity to live full and productive lives.
Briefly describe how you are working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.
Having lived and worked in Southern Africa for most of my career - where adolescent girls and young women are 8 times more likely to acquire HIV than their male counterparts and where, for many girls, their first sexual experience is coercive or violent - I have seen first-hand how essential it is to have a comprehensive, person centred approach to working with women and girls.
At Frontline AIDS, we’ve been on the HIV/SRHR integration journey for over 15 years; in 2017 we reached over 2 million people (79% women and girls and almost 15,000 trans people) with comprehensive SRHR and HIV interventions at individual, community, service provider and policy levels. Our experience on the ground shows that for many women and girls, it is often their lack of opportunity or a harmful environment which blocks them from being able to decide when, where and with whom she has sex with – resulting in sexual and reproductive ill-health and increased risk for HIV acquisition.
Our flagship adolescents and young people’s programme R E A D Y is building a movement of Resilient and Empowered ADolescents and Young people to claim their sexual and reproductive rights and to shape, deliver and monitor programmes that enable them to make informed healthy decisions about their bodies and enact those decisions in safe and secure family and community settings, and to be able to access quality non-judgmental health services that are tailored to their needs.
How does SheDecides link to the work of Frontline AIDS, and your Linking Organisations, at local and global level?
The Alliance secretariat and our national partners (Linking Organisations and Implementing Partners) provide person-centred, comprehensive, rights based programmes with women and girls. In addition to the READY programming mentioned above, the Alliance is working with Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Rosa to address and respond to linkages between Gender Based Violence (GBV)and HIV with and for women in their diversity in the MENA region.
The ‘LEARN’ project will build leadership of women in their diversity to address GBV and through community-led dialogues, generate in-depth understanding about GBV to strengthen advocacy and programmatic responses. This work will galvanise advocacy and lay the groundwork for evidence-based and community driven responses including (but not limited to) direct support to survivors of GBV among women living with and most affected by HIV, advocacy for a better integration of GVB and HIV services, or social norms transformation to prevent GBV.
At a global level, the Alliance Secretariat has refused to comply with the provisions of the expanded Mexico City Policy; and we are conducting research, with the support of the Swedish Government, to better understand the impact of the MCP has on the HIV response.
As one of the first HIV-focused organisations represented amongst the Champions, the Alliance provides a valuable link from women and girls who are most marginalised - such as those living with HIV, selling sex, from diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and those who use drugs - to SheDecides. They are often the ones who have the least autonomy to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures due to stigma, discrimination and criminalisation.
Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.
I recently had a conversation with a young woman leader living with HIV from one of our READY projects. She was telling me about how in her country there are adolescent girls who are sexually active and who have children and yet, they don’t have the basic knowledge their body – they don’t know what their vagina is or that if they don’t get their period they might be pregnant.
When I was working in Southern Africa, I knew women who had to go to South Africa to obtain a safe abortion because it wasn’t available in their own countries. They would travel at great personal and financial cost to South Africa to access a safe abortion and would often have no support in their community to accompany themselves through this. Some would make that journey after they had a botched/illegal abortion in their own country, which left them with internal injury and haemorrhage.
These are only glimpses of the injustices women and girls are experiencing because of senseless and harmful laws and social norms. These stories illustrate that women and girls are being assaulted throughout their lives with violence and inequality.
I hold these and other women’s stories, as examples of where we as a society fall down. I also look at my daughter and son and I’m hopeful for the future. I am driven by these things – anger, sadness, hope – to do what I do everyday; with the belief that a more kind and just world is possible for everyone.
How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?
Only by challenging and disrupting unequal power dynamics, harmful attitudes and social norms; and protecting, promoting and fulfilling women and girls rights to decide about their bodies we can achieve a world where SheDecides, WithoutQuestion.
Typically, in the work that we do we are demanding accountability from governments and policy-makers. At this time, we will only have a future where SheDecides, WithoutQuestion if we hold ourselves, our communities and our leaders to account, including governments and decision-makers. We need to act on all levels – individual, community, institutional and policy – to achieve this vision.
In addition to working with women and girls to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to claim their rights and entitlements; we need men and boys to champion the rights of their mothers, sisters, wives and nieces. We all need to stand together in solidarity to combat social and political injustice all over the world, which denies women’s and girls’ right to decide.
Anything else you'd like to add?
The time is now to work across movements and come together. Let’s put aside territorialism, petty divisiveness and rivalries to be CHAMPIONS together for women’s and girls’ right to decide.