For the past five months, the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH) has joined forces with community partners IBIS, Positive Young Women Voices, Rural to Global, SWOP Ambassadors and BorderHub to organize a project that blends research, advocacy, and art. The objective was three-fold: to create awareness of the sexual and reproductive health experiences of women with disabilities, sex workers, and adolescents in rural and urban areas, to provide nuances to their hindered access to rights and services, and to enable more conversations about inclusivity and non-discrimination.
The Sauti (Swahili:Voice) Exhibition is a collection of work from visual and performance artists that captures and represents the stories of 21 women and girls from marginalized groups.
On Thursday, May 25th, the public, healthcare providers, policymakers, and community advocates were welcomed to the launch of the Sauti Exhibition to learn, engage and listen to the voices of adolescent girls and young women from urban and rural areas, women with disabilities and sex workers.
TICAH Executive Director Jedidah Maina said that the exhibition emphasizes our responsibility in changing reality, including:
Normalizing conversations about sex and accessing reproductive health services. Participants in the study shared “parents can be the first teachers” when it comes to topics like safer sex. Stigma leads to dangerous strategies to address health needs as well as girls enduring violence without any support to end it.
Speaking up. Women with disabilities shared they experience sexual harassment in daily interactions like climbing onto motorbikes. If you see something, say something.
Designating a judgment free and education-oriented service for adolescents at health care facilities where they can learn and ask questions about contraceptives and safer sex.
Understanding what consent looks like, in any relationship, sexual or otherwise. Think FRIES – consent is Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific. Respect a girl’s or woman’s boundaries: paying for sex does not entitle you to own her; giving money to your girlfriend does not mean you can harm her or demand an abortion.
BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT
In 2021, the Aunty Jane Hotline team with the support of IBIS conducted research to understand the sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) information available within specific potentially high priority groups for AJH, as well as the source for this information. These high priority groups engaged in the study are groups who could easily benefit from AJH services but have not been seen to utilize the services as expected, including sex workers, women with disability, adolescent girls in urban setting, adolescent girls in rural settings.
TICAH in collaboration with IBIS, sought to take the conversation to a larger platform and highlight some of the challenges experienced with these marginalized groups. The project was co-creative, featuring a process that rejects single authorship in favor of group ownership. It began with the research phase, with meetings that revised the interview questions to make the language easily accessible. The team also took great care to consider the potential social-emotional support that the interviewees might need given the sensitive nature of the questions.
Research assistants then conducted the interviews. The 21 girls and women graciously shared their stories, hoping that vocalizing their needs would improve not only their circumstances, but those of girls to come. As they revealed insights about gender based violence and the barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, the interviewees also highlighted the importance of organizations and communities that have supported them through difficult experiences and decision making. Many remarked they are hoping for a world where harm at home is not normalized and stigmas around seeking care are dismantled.