Reflections on World AIDS Day: Tshepo

Published in Featured Articles
Monday, 01 December 2014 10:38

World AIDS day to me has always been my friend's birthday. Being asked to reflect on it I realised that I've never really connected with all "x Days" like Teacher's Day, Nurse's Day, Heritage Day. My interest in these "x Days" seems to be solely confined to, is it a public holiday?


I am not implying that the day has no significance, and having been asked to reflect on World AIDS Day I could've researched it to find out more... Instead I decided to write first then research it. I decided to follow this process because I wanted to write a genuine reflection of what it means to me. And as I stated, I have no connection to it.


This is ironic considering that I work for the Centre for the Study of AIDS (CSA). In fact writing this reflection has made it more difficult, for fear of what my bosses will think of me when they read this. I can only hope they somehow appreciate my candour.


I then decided to take the route of reflecting on my work and somehow try to link that to World AIDS Day. When I was thinking about that I realised something I consider amazing. I realised that even though I work in the field of HIV, my work is about people, and how they relate, interact and are affected by society.


I speak for myself when I say HIV isn't a medical issue. Thanks to ARVs that part of the problem has been solved. The greatest impact that HIV has on people is the social implications of being infected and affected by HIV. The reason I love the CSA is because we get to challenge and influence people. The same people who form part of society. By challenging their thinking and thus influencing their behaviours and attitudes we influence society and thus, slowly but surely, mitigate the negative social implications of being infected with or affected by HIV.


The joy of my work is watching people become more understanding and that results in them becoming more accepting and less judgemental. I've witnessed people change from being anti-homosexuality at the beginning of a training session to being accepting of homosexuality, saying things like, "I now understand that their sexuality doesn't change who they are nor is their sexuality all they are." I've witnessed people overcome their fear through knowledge and understanding, saying things like, "I've been avoiding person X since I found out about their status. But now I realise how wrong that was of me. I knew I wouldn't get infected by just being with and interacting with them, but I was still afraid. Maybe I feared judgement by association but now I know better and I will stop discriminating against person X."


World AIDS Day had never meant much to me but now it does. For me it will always remind me of my time at the CSA. The work I did, the people influenced by the work done and, most importantly, World AIDS Day will forever give me hope that society has changed and will continue to change for the better.


Now to go read up on and watch a few YouTube videos about World AIDS Day!





world AIDS day 2014World AIDS Day, held every year on 1 December since 1988, is an opportunity to note that worldwide an estimated 35 million people are living with HIV and that about 39 million people have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.


Sub-Saharan Africa is the region worst-affected by HIV/AIDS and there are over 6 million South Africans living with HIV. Our epidemic, because it is so large, is a unique opportunity to reflect on gender and HIV.


The most obvious starting point is that women are often more vulnerable to HIV than men, for both physiological and sociological reasons, and many of these are young women. With our annual focus on gender based violence in full swing, it may be a useful moment to reflect that gender inequality is often what drives this violence, and HIV vulnerability, in the context of an inadequate criminal justice system. If you add patriarchy, and destructive forms of masculinity, into this script, then anyone who challenges masculine privilege, including gender non-conforming men and women (including lesbian and trans women and gay men) is also vulnerable.


But it would be useful to acknowledge that narrow gender scripts are bad for men too – especially men who feel a need to act out forms of heterosexual masculinity which require them to be sexually voracious and experienced, and “strong“ enough to avoid acknowledging vulnerability and any form of health-related help.


In a sense, men too are victims, as societal requirements to “man up“ trap them in behaviour which is both personally and socially unfulfilling, and often risky for HIV. Some of the unhelpful rhetoric in South Africa around gender based violence, for example asking men to “protect“ women and children, may increase pressure on men to be “in charge“ of gender violence initiatives and change, and infantilises and disempowers women, ignoring the deeper economic, political and social roots of gender inequality.


As GR@UP we call upon all South Africans to reflect on what gender means and how the gender “system“ could be challenged, and even dismantled. This could not only have a positive effect on the dignity and opportunities of all men and women (and those who choose not to conform to, or do not easily fall into, this binary) of all sexualities but could start a conversation about humanness beyond gender, and about identity beyond labels.


Such a conversation also creates space for views of HIV and AIDS which go beyond despair and hopelessness, but which speak to ideas of transformation, diversity  and inclusivity, and new forms of sexual and health citizenship. University of Pretoria

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