Rwanda: Global Initiative Founder on Championing Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

In the ongoing battle for women’s reproductive health rights and the fight against HIV, acknowledging the intersectionality of various issues is crucial.

SisterLove, an international non-profit organisation with 34 years of experience, understands this need. The organisation has been making progress in tackling the intersections of sexual and reproductive health rights and justice for women and girls, especially those of African descent.

Founded by Dázon Dixon Diallo who is currently the president of SisterLove International South Africa, the organisation’s work revolves around sexual health, HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), community education and engagement as well as treatment education.

According to Diallo, they have also started doing some direct service delivery and are involved in policy advocacy and conducting community-led and community-based research regarding reproductive health.

“We have intersectional approaches, and that’s why we weave our service delivery with our policy, advocacy, and activism with our research, and then overall, doing solidarity building across all our experiences. And that’s what brings us into the international space,” she said.

Work in Rwanda

According to Diallo, the organisation has built relationships in Rwanda and collaborated with various local organisations.

One partnership that emerged from their work was with the Health Development Initiative (HDI), where they organised the “Women Now” meeting in Rwanda in 2019, focusing on menstrual health.

Aflodis Kagaba, Executive Director of HDI-Rwanda, said the Women Now conference helped in uniting African women and advocates by engaging them in HIV response, as well as promoting equity and equality in HIV protection.

He said it ensured that women and girls were actively involved in discussions on HIV prevention, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender-based violence prevention.

Kagaba further mentioned that distributing menstrual cups to those in need in Rwanda not only provided an alternative menstrual hygiene product but also encouraged increased uptake and awareness surrounding the products.

He added that SisterLove also backed women advocates attending the International Childhood Conference in Montreal, and had also supported high-level pharmaceuticals and other groups involved in HIV or sexual violence prevention product development.

Diallo said they distributed over a thousand menstrual cups to provide women and girls with safer resources for managing their periods and to address the stigma and barriers often associated with menstruation.

Additionally, SisterLove joined forces with the Black Women’s Health Imperative from the US and partnered with the Rwanda Women’s Network to address the intersections of HIV and gender-based violence in Rwanda.

According to Diallo, the initiative aimed to build community capacity and create guidelines for training service providers to tackle these dual epidemics effectively.

Diallo emphasised the importance of addressing issues from multiple angles and involving local partners in identifying the most effective strategies, highlighting the need for comprehensive approaches that consider economic development, empowerment, leadership, and healthcare services.

Key initiatives

Diallo, who said she is the “godmother” in the reproductive justice movement, highlighted one of the initiatives of SisterLove named ‘Healthy Love Party’, a long-standing sexual health and HIV prevention intervention, which creates inclusive and trusting spaces, allowing people to discuss sexual health topics and learn about preventing HIV, STIs, as well as unintended pregnancies in a relaxed and enjoyable environment.

Beyond the Healthy Love Party, Diallo and her team have also launched the ‘Healthy Love Bus’, a mobile sexual reproductive health clinic aimed at reaching underserved communities in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to Diallo, the initiative strives to address disparities in healthcare access and ensure that the beneficiaries receive the necessary support regardless of their location or transportation barriers.

SisterLove also has a programme office in South Africa, where they focus on addressing the challenges faced by adolescent girls and young women at the intersections of HIV and gender-based violence. Additionally, they have also been part of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA).

Tackling HIV stigma

Diallo said fighting HIV stigma involves promoting respect and equal treatment for all individuals, something the organisation advocates for.

She highlighted the importance of treating people with dignity, not just asking them not to stigmatise others, as well as educating individuals to make different choices rather than discriminating against them.