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AIDS discriminates because we discriminate

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By Katherine Austin-Evelyn

Gender and HIV/AIDS technical advisor, stuff Uniterra
(part of the Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organizations)

The new slogan for the AIDS-free World’s 2010 campaign – AIDS discriminates because we discriminate – doesn’t pull any punches. And quite right too.

On International AIDS Day, viagra order we need to ram the point home that although AIDS can affect anyone, order it spreads like wildfire in populations living at the margins of society because we (the powerful, wealthy and educated) refuse to act due to our own complacency, fear and prejudice.

And women in particular are at risk because they’re often exploited, abused and oppressed. Take Mayrah, a sex worker in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, as a classic example.

At 17, Mayrah moved to Vancouver from a small Aboriginal reserve where violence and substance abuse dominated her daily life. She moved to a city of possibilities, only to find that without skills and a high school diploma, she could not find work.

She moved in with her cousin who introduced her to Sandy. Sandy promised to take care of her; she could live with him and run errands for his business. Mayrah’s errands turned into more than deliveries and pick ups. After four years she found herself working on street corners and eventually, HIV positive.

Her story should prompt us to ask some hard questions. Why and how did Mayrah end up on that street corner.  Why are the conditions on reserves so brutal? Where does the demand for sex work come? Who is taking responsibility for what happens to women like Mayrah?

I believe in personal responsibility as much as the next freedom-loving North American, but I think it is high time we evaluate how social stigma, inequality and discrimination, and our complicity with these factors, influences the spread of HIV/AIDS everywhere. Not only this, it allows us to ignore it too.

HIV/AIDS is not just a problem for Africa. We in the West would do well to stop being so complacent and realise that it’s a problem for everyone. This year, on December 1, the World AIDS Day theme is Universal Access and Human Rights, concepts that I am trying to highlight here.

Universality in HIV/AIDS treatment, care and prevention means, in part, combating social stigma and discrimination through the enhancement of human rights all over the world, in developed and under-developed countries alike.

When we commit whole-heartedly to gender equality, to better conditions on aboriginal reserves and rehabilitation for drug users for example, the barriers for the socially marginalized will decrease in size and number.

Only then can we begin to combat overwhelming pandemics such as HIV/AIDS. The responsibility lies in everyone’s hands and turning away or ‘blaming and shaming’ people who lead different types of lives, who are far away or who simply look ‘different’ are not acceptable responses. ??I cannot tell you when the tide will turn on HIV/AIDS in Africa or in the high-risk groups all over the world. I do know I have history on my side when I say it is coming.

And between now and then, I do not plan to spend much time being complacent. My energy will be spent advocating, raising awareness, researching and challenging people when they tell me that HIV/AIDS isn’t about poverty or inequality, it’s about personal choice and responsibility.

I envision a world where we accept others and create safe spaces for vulnerable communities to thrive. A world where we reject stigma and discrimination before it has a chance to turn into a deadly virus.

Do you?

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