AIR’s story

AIR was born from the imaginations and practical dreams of African practitioners who wanted to explore ways to better support colleagues working in the fields of violence against women and girls (VAWG), HIV/AIDS and emotional wellbeing/mental health. The initial stimulus was a request from Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, which provides services for women survivors of sexual violence, and runs a visionary program to help women transition from victims to survivors to leaders. Panzi’s frontline staff were dealing with the weight of supporting patients who had experienced horrific violations in the ongoing conflict, while also managing their own vulnerability to threats and attacks on the hospital itself.

In response, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, convened a working group of African activist service providers and women’s rights advocates to develop a response. As the discussions grew it was clear that activists across Africa were facing similar challenges in sustaining their work and finding adequate space and resources to ensure their own security and sustainability, as well as to pause, reflect, grow and share their insights and technical experience.

A series of gatherings brought together African psychologists, health workers, HIV/AIDS and VAWG prevention and response practitioners, and peace and security activists who rarely have a chance to meet. The dialogues pointed to a need to create the AIR initiative as a way to ‘connect the disconnected dots’ across sectors, while providing space for learning, reflection and new thinking and generating practical tools and resources. In the spirit of African-driven solutions, AIR is hosted by the Graça Machel Trust and led by a Steering Committee of African practitioners.

True to its origins, AIR places the well-being and security of service and care providers and women’s human rights defenders in its heart. With feet planted firmly on the ground, AIR is committed to being both visionary and practical, with activities that are responsive to community needs.

What AIR does and why

AIR strengthens and shares transformative feminist approaches to violence against women and girls, HIV/AIDS and emotional well-being and mental health in the African region. We do this by supporting documentation, critical thinking and analysis, providing technical support and facilitating exchange amongst African practitioners, and increasing the visibility of transformative approaches.

In doing so, AIR seeks to contribute to African societies where women and girls have autonomy, and can fully enjoy their human rights, and where all people live healthy, empowered and violence-free lives.