Champion Stories: Juliet Awuor
Champion for Comprehensive Sex Education
Like many teenagers, Juliet Awuor had big dreams for her future. She was thoughtful, bright, and outspoken. She abstained from sex until she was seventeen, when she decided she was ready. She never imagined that after one night, she’d end up pregnant and HIV positive.
“I just heard of effective use of condoms, but I never knew how to use them.”
It was 2001, and American aid money, which funded much of the reproductive health services in Juliet’s native Kenya, was conditioned on a strict abstinence-only curriculum when it came to sex education. So although Juliet and her boyfriend agreed to use a condom, neither of them had ever been taught how to use one. Her boyfriend removed it during sex.
In an instant, Juliet’s life was turned upside down as she navigated illness, pregnancy, social stigma, and heartbreak. Her dreams for the future seemed impossible now.
“I had abstained for this long, and this once, just once, and here I am. HIV positive.”
Juliet was angry at the system that had denied her the education that would have kept her safe, and she was determined to do something about it. She decided to share her story with the world – with other young women in Kenya as a volunteer health educator, with advocacy partners like PAI, and with lawmakers from European parliaments to Capitol Hill.
Juliet worked with PAI to create a documentary film, Abstaining from Reality, which shows how the U.S. government’s policies can harm young people all over the world by blocking them from receiving the sexual and reproductive health services, supplies and information they need. The film urged policymakers to adopt a comprehensive approach to preventing HIV infections by providing full, accurate information and a range of services that empower individuals to make informed decisions.
Juliet is PAI’s kind of champion: brave, tenacious, and astoundingly generous. By sharing her story, she helped PAI to make the case to U.S. government to change its funding policies—a change that would make a big difference in the lives of young women like Juliet all over the world. By removing this policy roadblock, Juliet and PAI helped make it possible for young people to get the comprehensive information they deserved.
Juliet continues to be an advocate for reproductive rights—and especially the rights of youth. In talking to other young people, Juliet says she tries to convey a message of hope, that no matter who you are, it is possible to pursue your dreams.
PAI believes in those dreams, and as long as Juliet is fighting, we will be too. PAI champions policies that make it possible for women to claim their reproductive rights, and fights to remove the policy roadblocks between women and the care they need. With partners like Juliet, we are clearing the roads to reproductive health.