HIV / AIDS Alliance - READY to Decide

It’s time for young women across the world to take back their decision-making power. Whether that means choosing to have sex or simply accessing the sexual and reproductive healthcare they need. Without discrimination.

When the International HIV/AIDS Alliance (now Frontline AIDS) came to us in the autumn of 2017, the epidemic they’d been addressing for more than two decades had shifted. The most vulnerable, marginalised people were even more at risk of getting HIV. In some parts of the world, that meant simply being female.

The facts were alarming. In east and southern Africa, UNAIDS reported 4,500 new HIV infections among young women every week. Twice as many as in young men. Young women who were experiencing violence were three times as likely to get HIV. And young women affected by intimate partner violence were doubly at risk.

FAILED BY SOCIETY

Many of these girls and women were being pressured into unprotected sex – often through forced marriages or rape. What’s more, they were being let down by the authorities there to protect them. Not all contexts were clear-cut. Some young women, for instance, were entangled in transactional relationships with promiscuous older men who promised ‘empowerment’ through money and mobile phones.

Adding to that, young women were being denied or shamed out of the sexual and reproductive health services they needed.  

The picture was complex, but it was connected by one fundamental issue: gender equality. One that needed to be put at the heart of the HIV agenda.

Just six weeks away, World AIDS Day (WAD) and the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa would provide a timely platform for the Alliance to do just that. The link between gender-based violence and the rise in HIV among girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa would carry a deeper significance against WAD’s thematic backdrop of ‘the right to health’. It was high time for these girls and women to claim back their right to choose what happens to their own bodies.

PUTTING GIRLS AND WOMEN FIRST

The Alliance team needed a bold, outspoken campaign identity to galvanise support among young audiences in Africa and the UK.

We knew it’d be futile to speak for young women. To support their self-empowerment, we had to speak with them and amplify their voices. They’d be the ones to make governments and policymakers sit up and listen, and change the laws that were failing them. They would remind leaders of their commitment to ending violence against girls and women across the globe (sustainable development goal #5).

So, naturally we built the campaign around young women’s voices, and encouraged their communities to rally around them. We targeted activists, young groups, local journalists, volunteers, NGOs as well as survivors and witnesses on the frontline. Girls, boys, women and men.

Considering our HIV prevention angle, it was important to show young African male voices echoing those of their female peers. They would help to counter the toxic masculine behaviour, setting a positive example for others.

As we researched and explored the opportunities, we were aware of several challenges. As well as the usual budget and timing restrictions, we had to cut through an increasingly crowded landscape. And not just on World AIDS Day. Many non-charitable organisations were moving into the women’s rights space, hoping to gain some of the attention mounting around what was becoming a hot topic. 

We were also conscious of cultural sensitivities around what could be viewed as controversial topics in Africa. Of course, we needed to be respectful; but we also needed to be bold and outspoken.

TRUTH AND ACTION

For the campaign to work, it was vital to strike a balance between truth and action; the stark reality and the change we wanted to see. Most of all, we had to avoid portraying young women as victims, but rather as resilient and defiant human beings. We focused on the simple fact that when girls and women choose what happens to their bodies, they’re much less likely to get HIV.

Our message was unequivocally clear: the world can’t end AIDS without ending gender inequality. And so we turned this mandate into a positive, succinct call-to-action – Empower girls, end the HIV epidemic.

READY to Decide

The Alliance already had a name for the campaign. READY to Decide would fuse together and support the efforts of two existing – and pertinent – global movements. The first was the Alliance’s READY (resilient and empowered adolescents and young people). READY encourages young people to lead on designing health programmes intended for them. The second was She Decides, which campaigns for the sexual and reproductive rights of girls and women across the globe. 

THE STORIES BEHIND THE STATISTICS

With real voices being a crucial element of the work, we were keen to unearth the stories behind the statistics. 

The Alliance team helped to gather first-hand accounts from young African people. We honed these into succinct, spirited and at times provocative statements. Through which, young people could demand change within their communities – and even in their own families.

We emblazoned T-shirts and banners with these statements, and created social-media and website content around them. That way, the Alliance could take those young voices to their events in Africa.

For the principle creative work, we turned READY to Decide into an autonomous assertion. ‘When I’m/she’s/they’re ready to decide’ demonstrated that young women were reclaiming their power. They were demanding, not asking for, equality and freedom. This would reframe their life experiences – and the basic rights they were being denied. For example, the right to choose when and with whom to have sex, a relationship, a marriage or a baby.

AN AUTHENTIC PICTURE

We needed authentic visual references to bring this idea to life. Images that would empathically complement the experiences of those brave enough to speak up. We secured some remarkable reportage images from a National Geographic photographer. These showed scenes of girls in potentially vulnerable situations where their rights might’ve been tested.

We overlaid these pictures with the words sex, marriage, relationships and pregnancy. To make them pop out, we used playfully provocative neon typography that resonated with youth culture. But we intended the weight of the words to jar. These were adult concepts imposed upon girls as young as 10 or 12-years-old.

We followed those words, as if in sharp riposte, with the more seriously expressed ‘When I’m ready to decide’. A solemn reminder to the world that it was time for her to decide. For her human rights to be honoured. For her voice to be heard.

These graphics formed impactful, shareable social-media content giving the Alliance the edge they needed.

 

FROM ENGAGEMENT TO ACTION

Just as they’d joined up the dots between the issues, the team had planned to coordinate the campaign around their key events. These also included International Human Rights Day and 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women. They wanted to spark as much participation as possible. So, we created a dedicated landing page to provide information and encourage young people to get involved and join the READY movement.

The READY to Decide landing page turned out to be the Alliance’s most visited webpage of the year. Meanwhile on Facebook and Twitter, the campaign generated some of the highest engagement the Alliance had seen.

“I think it’s testimony to how well Neo conceptualised the initial idea that we have a campaign that can be sustained beyond its initial lifespan. That was always my hope. But I think the level of buy-in has been a genuine surprise.”

A LIFE OF ITS OWN

As the Alliance team had hoped, the campaign took on a life of its own. It continued through the HIV calendar, building support at events such as the global SheDecides Champions and the UN Commission on the Status of Women. And collecting new advocates along the way, including the executive director of UN Women.

“The initial results were really positive and the campaign will continue to inform our influence work around Global Goal/SDG #5 throughout the year and beyond,” said the Alliance’s senior communications advisor Lola Abayomi, a few months after launch.

“I think it’s testimony to how well Neo conceptualised the initial idea that we have a campaign that can be sustained beyond its initial lifespan. That was always my hope. But I think the level of buy-in has been a genuine surprise.”

Two years on, READY to Decide still has a presence. When a campaign evolves into a movement of its own, you know you’ve done something right.

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