Last week the Supreme Court declared that Obamacare was constitutional and this was a huge victory for women’s health. Once Obamacare goes into effect health insurance companies won’t charge women more money and birth control will be covered. But the fight for women’s health does not end here, as other health issues affecting women need to be addressed too, including HIV/AIDS.
I’ll be honest: I’m a Feminist, but on a daily basis I don’t think about how HIV/ AIDS affects women. That isn’t to say that I don’t understand the severity of the AIDS epidemic. It’s just that this issue hasn’t been on my radar like other women’s issues have been. That’s why I hoped to learn a lot last Thursday when I went to an event at the ICRW entitled, “AIDS-Free Generation? Not Without Women.”
The event featured nine speakers from noted women’s organizations, all working to fight AIDS. The speakers opened up a discussion about the severity of the spread of this disease, and more crucially about its effect on women, both here in DC and across the globe. Most importantly the conversation stressed what I hadn’t been considering: HIV/ AIDS and gender inequality are deeply and problematically connected.
Katherine Fritz of the ICRW argued that researching AIDS helps us to see the “linkages between social inequality and poor health.” Of course, the most universal form of social inequality is gender inequality. Through discussing gender inequality, we can see many ways that women tend to be affected by HIV/ AIDS differently from how men are, such as via gender based violence. Pat Nalls of the Women’s Collective, a survivor living with AIDS, discussed how it is apparent that many women are infected with HIV through rape. She also explained that women with HIV are not being given the attention they need because we can’t just solve this problem with medicine. In addition to looking at violence against women, we must also consider how the problems of discrimination, economic empowerment, reproductive health, and poverty all connect with HIV/ AIDS.
Another issue which connects with gender inequality was of women and care giving. Of course women globally are more often the caregivers. Pat Nalls discussed how many women living with HIV/ AIDS will spend so much time taking care of their children, they will forget to care for themselves. This can mean forgetting to take their medicine even if they have the economic access to it. There is also the issue of mothers passing the virus onto their unborn children. Essentially, we cannot eliminate AIDS without addressing to specific problems for women. Deborah Smith, an ObGyn at the Whitman Walker Clinic, urged that we must have gender specific data about HIV/AIDS as well as gender specific outreach and engagement. It is important to always contextualize this issue, one example being with poverty. Many women cannot afford the expensive medication for HIV/AIDS, and we must do what we can to help make it more accessible.
Throughout the speeches, I wondered what activists really could do to help to stop the spread of HIV/ AIDS. There were many ways discussed that need to be put into action, and one important one was access to female condoms. Currently, there is one female condom for every six women in many African countries. This is a serious problem because the female condom is a form of contraception that prevents the spread of STIs, pregnancy, and it is female-initiated. Serra Sippel, of CHANGE, spoke about one of the current campaigns they support which is the UAFC Paper Doll Campaign. This is adorably simple and yet so effective. Through this campaign, people can write messages on paper dolls in support of female condoms and their importance. They are attempting to break the Guinness World Record for a paper doll chain, while spreading the word about female condoms. This reminded me that there are many simple ways to get involved with these issues and to become a supportive AIDS/ HIV activist. It really doesn’t have to be complicated!
The speakers went on to discuss more ways that anyone can help, such as with DC’s upcoming International AIDS Convention that’s happening in July. This will be an important gathering for HIV/ AIDS activists and survivors. Education and spreading awareness are always crucial to this cause. On a more personal level, the speakers reminded everyone to remember to get tested, practice safe sex, and encourage others to do so as well. The speakers also urged us to hold huge donor organizations, like the World Bank, accountable for not putting money towards the prevention of HIV/ AIDS. HIV/ AIDS is the leading cause of death for women around the globe, and it cannot ever be ignored. Through addressing this problem for both women and men, together we can create hope for an AIDS-free generation.
Some of the many organizations present at the “AIDS-free Generation” event:
For more information on the 2012 International AIDS Conference in DC: http://www.aids2012.org