"As a young person living with HIV, I wanted to bring about change"

By Phindile Andile Nhleko

READY Advocate Phindile Andile Nhleko, of the Swaziland Network of Young Positives (SNYP+), on what drives their movement and what is needed to raise young people’s voices higher to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We formed SNYP+ in 2012, after realising that young people were not being fully involved in the different health initiatives that were targeting them. As a young person living with HIV, I wanted to be part of something that would try to bring change to society.

Addis Beza 2520A youth-group in Ethiopia, where young people are also disproportinately affected by HIV © Sheikh Rajibul Islam, Duckrabbit for the Alliance 

We started the network to make sure the voices of young people in Swaziland are heard, and so that young people can access integrated services for HIV, sexual and reproductive health and tuberculosis (TB).

We are here to empower young people living with HIV to be able to fight against the infringement of their rights – so they can identify rights violations and act upon them. It is worth noting that more than 1 out of every 3 girls (38%) in Swaziland experience some form of sexual violence. A number of factors drive this violence, including poverty, inequality and gender norms, as well as family and community norms around ‘tibi tendlu’ (which means ‘house rubbish’ – or airing dirty family laundry in public).

Being a baby organisation, which only started 5-years-ago, it is difficult for us to get the finanical and technical support we need.

The main focus of our country’s HIV reponse and work on the SDGs sits with well established organisations – but to be well established one needs a lot of support. A lot of young people living with HIV are eager to push the agenda but are also limited by a lack of capacity and recognition.

The work we do mobilises young people to stay confident, be hands on in their projects, and creates a strong support structure for those who are HIV-positive.

By providing young people with information on gender-based violence, HIV, sexual and reproductive health and TB, they in turn empower their communities.

We also provide safe spaces for young people living with HIV to discuss their issues, and work with them on self development so they can understand and accept themselves.

Stigma and discrimination is still rife in Swaziland, which makes it difficult for young people living with HIV to come out in the open and support other young peole who are HIV-positive. We are helping to change this by creating and sustaining a unified body of SNYP+ members, who work together with one voice and create a positive image of young people living with HIV. 

SNYP+ is part of the READY movement and we know that our work is contributing towards the SDGs. We want young people living with HIV to be recognised for this. We are ready to make our government accountable to the SDG targets but we need better information to enable us to engage more closely with the government.

In just five years we have come far, but with proper investment we could do so much more. Youth-led organisations and networks such as ours are the ones that will drive the success of the HIV response, and ultimately deliver the SDGs.

Phindile will be speaking at a PITCH Open Dialogue about community action and the SDGs on 4 December, during the 19th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). Follow the Alliance on Twitter for live reporting and join the conversation at #CommunitySDGs.

You can read about the Alliance’s main ICASA events here.

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