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get involved: supporting women’s leadership in our region

sylvia john
Meet a woman who is championing the rights of women living with HIV in Papua New Guinea.

Sylvia John is a 33 year old women’s rights activist living with HIV in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

A few years ago, Sylvia knew something wasn’t right. She happened to be attending an awareness talk at her local YWCA where the facilitator described some of the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. She immediately recognised these as symptoms that she and the youngest of her three children had been experiencing.

It took Sylvia a few weeks to get the confidence to visit her local clinic for an HIV test. The result came back positive. Sylvia will never forget that day. ‘I thought my world had ended. I was bitter, angry and scared,’ she says.

After Sylvia and her youngest son were diagnosed with HIV, Sylvia was subjected to violence. When her home became too dangerous, the streets of Port Moresby were safer for her and her children to sleep.

Tragedy struck when Sylvia’s youngest son passed away from AIDS. Sylvia blamed herself for her son’s death and wondered if she too would be better off dead. Her only solace at this difficult time came from her local YWCA, where she continued to volunteer and was supported by staff.

In a country where 16,000 women are living with HIV, Sylvia knows firsthand the lack of support, stigma and discrimination women experience. Gender inequality is driving the AIDS epidemic , with PNG ranking 134th out of 148 countries on the UN’s Gender Equality Index.

Since her diagnosis, Sylvia has embarked on a journey of leadership; challenging stigma and championing the rights of women living with HIV in her community, through her local YWCA. Today, Sylvia is working for the Clinton Foundation as a counsellor, while advocating for services to meet the needs of women living with HIV.

‘The women in my community instil in me a great deal of faith and hope that I can be a leader for them.  With their support, I feel empowered to be the role model I know I am,’ says Sylvia, reflecting on her work in the community.

In order for Sylvia to continue doing this great work, she needs access to opportunities that will build her leadership skills and capacity. This allows her to share her story in safe spaces and connect with other women living with HIV fighting for change. In 2011, Sylvia attended the World YWCA Council and International Women’s Summit in Zurich. She described this simple experience as ‘life changing’; doors were opened, her story was heard and she gained confidence.

Sylvia is once again hoping to attend the YWCA World Council, this year in Thailand, but urgently needs financial assistance to get there.

You can help nurture and support women’s leadership in our region by donating to Sylvia’s World Council scholarship fund. By helping raise money for Sylvia to attend the World YWCA Council, you are supporting Sylvia to be a stronger, louder and more effective voicefor the rights of women and children living with HIV in Papua New Guinea.

You can follow the campaign at #supportsylvia and support Sylvia by donating to the Sylvia John World YWCA scholarship fund here.


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