Day 3: 2008 AIDS Conference
This is without doubt, the most exciting, chaotic, inspiring and enlightening event I have attended in a long time. Granted, I have only been able to participate in a tiny fraction of what this conference has to offer and I have not attended any presentations, workshops or discussions about research findings -- the Global Village, which is where we have spent most our time, is focused on advocacy, inclusion, and the basic human rights of peoples with HIV and AIDS -- however, I know my life has been irrevocably changed for the better as a result of the women and men I have met.
Before we left Portland, I joked about using Jonah to attract women to the World Pulse Media Lab, but I had no idea. Everyone wants to hug, hold and love Jonah. And they LOVE the fact that Shawn is watching Jonah in the Women's Networking Zone. Shawn has been the best care taker of Jonah, while being so supportive and active in World Pulse's work here.
Yesterday morning I registered a woman named Erin, who launched a magazine in her laundry room for drug users in the UK. With no prior publishing experience, her magazine has taken root, has a steady subscriber base and is helping to give voice to drug users. I must admit that my first reaction was, "What do you mean a magazine for drug users? Why? Does it tell them where to buy a great bong? The thinnest needle? The best city to shoot up?"
But as I asked questions and Erin answered, I started to think of the person and not the problem. Her magazine focuses on such things as self-care for drug users, where & how to find help/information, drug laws in different countries, and other important information.
In the afternoon I attended a session on HIV programming in conflict and post conflict zones. Leah was one of five people who presented.
In southern Sudan, which I learned is a semi-autonomous region and should not to be confused with Darfur, the government's HIV and AIDS program is initially focusing on educating and testing the military. When asked why the government is focusing on the military and not civilains, the presenter responded that in southern Sudan, the military are seen as liberators. As a result, the people hold a lot of respect for them and the Health Ministry believes that because of the stigma HIV carries with it, the citizens will only adopt HIV prevention methods if they witness the military taking it seriously.
In the Eastern Caucaus, which includes Georgia, the situation is very dire for the people in general, but especially for postive people.
Last night I met two women who work for the International Women's Health Coalition. We were discussing the basic human rights of sex workers and teaching sexual pleasure in a marriage as a way to increase fidelity, thereby decreasing the chance a husband or wife will spread the disease thorugh cheating.
There is a Sex Worker's Zone in the Global Village. This is a wild and in your face zone and I look forward to visiting them tomorrow. I've heard that it is quite controversial. I heard that during a panel discussion a man asked, "Why would you want to be a sex worker?" One of the panelists,a sex worker, responded, "Are you in your first choice of a job?"
The question is, if a woman or man has autonomy and is not abused, should sex worker be an accepted profession?
It also begs that question of how do we differentiate between human trafficking and sex workers?
The day's events reminded me that as recent as the 70's in the U.S. we still called people retarded. But we know better know. We put the people before the disabilities. You don't say, this is my retarded friend. You say, this is my friend with a developmental disability.... if you even need to say the last part of all. I believe that this is what positive people, drug users and sex workers are asking for. To be seen as people and not their label.
I am in the taxi typing this up and see that we are almost at the conference. I have a lot more to share about Leah's presentation on Kenya in post-election riots. But first, I am off to bring more amazing women onto PulseWire.
All my love,