Meet Consolata: Youth representative from Kenya

By Guest blogger

Consolata Opiyo represents the priorities and interests of young people on the board of the International Community of Woman Living with HIV (ICW) Kenya, on Y+ and on the steering committee of the Adolescent Treatment Coalition.

Consolata Opiyo is one of three youth advocates who attended the 70th World Health Assembly, and a young woman living with HIV from Kenya. An experienced community mobiliser and advocate, she delivered the following statement during the panel discussion on “Catalyzing global actions to stop discrimination in health care”.

Consolata at the World Health Assembly

Consolata speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

I do not remember a time in my life when I was not often attending a health facility. It is something that I - and many young people born and living with HIV - know from the moment we are “aware”.

For a long time, whatever I experienced seemed normal to me. Many of my peers also experienced the same things and we always believed them to be right. For example, receiving injections that caused me not to have my menstrual cycle for months; always being told not to think about ever having children, or an HIV-negative boyfriend.

But eventually I became a youth advocate and learned about women living with HIV being coerced into or subjected to forced sterilization; adolescents and young women being denied services like contraceptives because they are considered too young to engage in sex or, if they are HIV-positive, being told they should not consider having sex at all; women forced into using certain family planning interventions or being denied services altogether if they resist; young women being yelled at in health facilities for being pregnant and HIV-positive; insulting language being used by health workers with women and girls not only when they are HIV-positive but also when they are engaging in activities considered “bad” or “immoral” like sex work.

If we are aware of our rights, we will seek them.

Hearing all these stories made me frightened of health care facilities. Then along the way I was sensitized and received training on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). I discovered that I have a right to say no to sex, to choose the kind of contraceptive we want, a right to the highest attainable health care, especially SRHR and the right to have children.

I finally had a name for all the bad things that were happening to many adolescent girls, young women and women seeking services in healthcare settings: stigma. It is for this reason I must insist that we need more commitment towards building resources for informing communities of their rights, especially within health facilities where it is assumed all the power lies with the healthcare workers.

If we are aware of our rights, we will seek them. If we are knowledgeable about what to do when we feel those rights have been violated maybe because of stigma, prejudice or outright abuse, we can seek recourse for the bad things happening to us.

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