Make Space for Adolescent Mothers Affected by HIV

Dudu Young Families First Blog

I am Duduzile (Dudu) Dlamini, a global advocate of sex worker rights and an Ambassador to the Coalition. I believe we must empower adolescent parents affected by HIV, by making space for them in society. Adolescent mothers living with HIV are very vulnerable as a result of being criminalised by the laws they are living in. When this happens they lose hope. They stop dreaming about a better future. They lose self-esteem, and they don’t believe in themselves.

Because of their young age, adolescent mothers feel that they don’t have the power to say they know what they are doing. They live with the double stigma of being a young mother and living with HIV. Adolescent mothers who are sex workers by occupation face further prejudice. They have nothing to make them proud, they have no sense of agency, can feel isolated and are often left behind compared with their peers. With no-one to believe in them, there is a limit to the space available where they can impress themselves. This is why making space for and recognising this key population is so important.

I want to motivate adolescent mothers to have the skills they need to express themselves so they can make their own decisions, and exercise their right to make choices, including taking care of their own health and that of their children. Many of these mothers will question their need to take their HIV medication when they have no faith in their future.

This needs to change to create improved outcomes for adolescent parents living with HIV and their children. Firstly, for all women across society, we need to change beliefs. This means removing patriarchy and achieving social justice for women. We can do this by creating a shared space for all people affected by issues surrounding HIV and adolescent motherhood and fatherhood. A space where they can have their voices heard and understand the pressures they face. We have to include adolescent parents in decision-making, we can’t plan for people who are not in the room. This is why I support the #YoungFamiliesFirst campaign, which calls for people in the community, in the clinic and within governments to stand up for adolescent parents’ rights in order to create lasting change.

When we empower adolescent parents to own their problems, we find we don’t need to lead them – they can lead themselves. By working together to look closer at the lives of adolescent women living in poverty, and wider gender equality issues, we can make progress, they can make progress.

My message to adolescent parents is: I am listening to you and I believe in you. I recognise you and I am here to support you, not make decisions for you. I think we’ve made a big mistake before. From now, and moving forward, I will put you first. For everyone else I say, don’t think of your prejudices, of adolescent parents’ HIV, think of their future and what is best for them.

Find out more about the #YoungFamiliesFirst campaign.