January 19, 2016

Change Starts With Us: Namibia Women's Health Network

Mama Cash grantee Namibia Women’s Health Network reflects on the ingredients for impact

Mama Cash’s grantee partners are doing amazing work for women, girls, and trans people in their communities and around the world. In an eleven part series, we will share some of these inspiring stories of change. This is the story of Namibia Women’s Health Network.

Founded in 2008 by 14 women living with HIV, the Namibia Women’s Health Network (NWHN) is a membership-based organisation which aims to empower women affected by HIV/AIDS. It provides information, education, and builds capacities of women living with HIV. NWHN also works with the national and local government, and civil society organisations to address the most pressing issues facing HIV positive women in Namibia. NWHN has over 2000 members across all fourteen regions of Namibia.

The Challenge

According to Namibian law, HIV testing, sterilisation, and abortion may only be performed with a person’s informed consent. Forced sterilisation violates rights guaranteed under the Namibian constitution and Namibia’s obligations under international and regional law. Nevertheless, coerced and forced sterilisation were long common practice in the country. Women faced many obstacles that prevented them from reporting such cases, including lack of awareness about the law and human rights, stigma connected to being HIV positive, and lack of confidence that reporting a case would result in remedy.

In 2008 the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS conducted a participatory study of 230 Namibian women which found that the majority experienced violations of their rights and discrimination in obtaining health care services. Forty women—almost 20%—reported forced or coerced sterilisation. Participation in the study—and its alarming results—helped inspire the founding of Namibia Women’s Health Network.

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