Theresa Allen and Ingrid Floyd
AIDS 2016 : 21st Annual International Conference on AIDS
July 18th – 21st
Iris House Executive Director Ingrid Floyd and Theresa Allen, Behavioral Health Counselor are in Durban, South Africa for the International AIDS Conference.
Women Now Summit
Ingrid: This week Iris House is attending the 21st Annual International Conference on AIDS in Durban, South Africa. Last week was the Women Now summit hosted in part by Sister Love, an Iris House sister agency from Atlanta, Georgia. This summit had a focus on women from the African Diaspora and it was insightful to see that the issues facing women of color in the United States were so similar to women across the globe, especially in Africa. Women discussed sex trafficking, rape, intimate partner violence, women controlled prevention methods and other issues that are critical to address if we are going to end the epidemic for all populations and not just some.
It was enlightening to hear about some of the new prevention methods for women such as the diprivine ring which women can insert and it releases prevention therapy for 3 months. Researchers are also working on such a ring which will prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as HIV making it even more attractive for women to use consistently. Additionally, it was great to meet young women from Team Zazi who have developed unique prevention campaigns using social media to encourage women to take charge and #Bagitanduseit, condoms that is.
This campaign helped to shed light that the stigma related to women carrying condoms is slowly going away and women are no longer thought of in a negative light for being empowered to be the one to have a condom.
Theresa: The Women Now Conference began each day with a resounding clarion call for a cure Now which was expressed in song, dance, multiple languages, dialects and spoken words.
No instruments were needed as the melodious harmonized voices in the isicathamiya style of singing which originated from the South African Zulus pulled you in as the voices bellowed from the ballroom.
While many us did not know each other's language all of us felt and knew they sang of love, determination, pain and hope and encouraged every person to rise up above the obstacles especially those that are gender based.
During breakout sessions a sense of solidarity was evident as women felt safe to disclose issues and situations never before shared in life. We networked and shared resources. About 110 women attended the Conference from many countries many of whom were traveling from their homelands for the first time.
This massive undertaking was well organized and energized each person to continue to demand the ultimate result of total eradication in their countries and communities.
Both: Today the official IAC kicked off. Over 18,000 people are registered for the conference representing all countries in the world, showing no one country is immune from HIV, we all are affected. HIV is transmitted by “sexism, racism and homophobia” and not just by sex, per Actress Charlize Theron at the opening plenary. She also made a critical point “we value men over women”. We know this to be true as we discuss it all the time at Iris House that more priority has to be put on the lives of women in order to end and change the course of the epidemic. The vibe at the conference is energetic and hopeful. Many countries are talking about ending AIDS in this generation. It is also important to know that today is also Nelson Mandela Day in South Africa, his 98th birthday and a day of service. What a great feeling to be in South Africa on this day!
“Everyone deserves services, no exceptions. Let’s bring our populations together, gay men and women of color to fight together to help end this epidemic.” For too long we have pitted women against gay men for funding and as the President of the IAC said and the co-chair of the conference have indicated its time we stand together. The opening plenary included a video address and prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who again emphasized that we must pay attention to the most vulnerable including women (all women) and sex workers.
“We cannot end AIDS without healthcare systems and healthcare workers in place…We cannot end AIDS without addressing Gender Based Violence and the number of young girls infected every year” – female speaker from rural village in Africa where most of the population are women who are HIV+. “Our house is still burning, we are not yet there.” Again, the themes in various countries are the same as those we hear in the U.S. We have heard countless times that even with ACA we will not have enough medical and healthcare professionals to serve those in need. We must invest in the infrastructure to deliver quality healthcare services domestically and abroad.
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