At AIDS Conference, Women Finally in the Spotlight

At AIDS Conference, Women Finally in the Spotlight

by The Editors

July 26, 2012

This week, Washington is host to the 19th International AIDS Conference. It differed from its predecessors in some important respects. This is the first time in over 10 years that it has taken place in the United States (after the lifting of the Bush-era travel ban on HIV-positive individuals). And most of today’s headlines from AIDS2012 focus on women.

As the conference began, UNICEF deputy executive director Rao Gupta told CBS News: “Women make up half of the world’s HIV infections, and adolescent girls are at particular risk in the hardest-hit parts of the world.” And while fewer babies are dying every year from HIV, “the drop isn’t happening fast enough to meet the 2015 target date, and a key reason is that many countries focus just on protecting the baby and not on treating the mother for her own good,” added UNICEF HIV adviser Dr. Chewe Luo, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

On the Issues Magazine has been reporting on this “new” AIDS front for at least 25 years. In 1985, just as the syndrome acquired its official name, On the Issues Magazine publisher Merle Hoffman reported from a San Francisco AIDS ward in “Love and Death on [Ward] 86”: “A visual flash – the end of a bed – a thin almost skeletal leg sticking out of the white bed sheets – spasmodically twitching – the door partly open – someone sitting at the bedside – And then I felt the rage. One lives one life making choices that challenge the established order, struggling to self-actualize, to break free of barriers that don’t fit […] Then one morning your throat hurts.”

“HIV-POSITIVE WOMEN HAVE RIGHTS TOO and They’re Often Denied.” wrote Dr. Barbara Santee, acting president of the Women and AIDS Resource Network, in October 1988.

HIV/AIDS, Blowback Hits Women Hard” was the focus of May 2008, On the Issues Magazine’s online debut. In Molly McGinty’s “AIDS Spreads like Wildfire, Crosses Gender Divide,” Dázon Dixon Diallo, president of the Atlanta-based group SisterLove, told On the Issues Magazine: “This pandemic is about biological differences — and about political inequities. Women’s social status is not a backdrop for HIV’s spread, but is instead its undergirding cause.”

This key truth has slowly become AIDS experts’ “consensus,” as reports out of AIDS2012 show. “Tackling the female side of AIDS means going far beyond global focus on pregnant woman,” wrote the Washington Post this morning. “The AIDS epidemic increasingly is a female one, adds the Philadelphia Inquirer, “and women are making the case at the world’s largest AIDS meeting that curbing it will require focusing on poverty and violence, not just pregnancy and pills.”

This expanded focus, of course, may require activist attention as intense as that of the 1980s (recently chronicled in Sarah Schulman’s film UNITED IN ANGER: A HISTORY OF ACT-UP). Such activism seems ample at AIDS 2012.

Activists’ strategies seemed determined to “Break the Silence, End the Stigma, just as recommended by Mary Lou Greenberg in May 2008. RH Reality Check (which has been blogging AIDS2012 daily) brings some good news about the next generation in Youth Activism at AIDS2012: Leading the Way to an AIDS-Free Generation: “Millennials are mobilizing their peers to pressure governments, corporations, and nonprofits to commit to an AIDS-free generation by increasing investments, shifting resource allocation, and garnering political will,” [and] ” leading an even more profound cultural shift. Already, half of Millennials want more information on talking about HIV with kids, and they are beginning to raise their own children with a new set of values around HIV and AIDS,”  writes Debra Hauser.

Meanwhile, women more directly affected were also organizing aplenty at AIDS2012. African women announced the formation of the Pan-African Positive Women Coalition, led in part by Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, current president of the Global Power Africa Women Network. Khupe, a breast cancer survivor, urged women to fight the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and “focus on improving their lives.”

While some conferences buzz and buzz with uncertain results, participants in AIDS2012 voiced determination along with their concern. “These adolescent girls and young women, our sisters and daughters, represent an unfinished agenda in the AIDS response,” Gupta told the gathering.

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