Red Ribbons, Flowering over the Hearts of Women in Tanzania

Photo from World AIDS Day demonstration in Kibosho, Tanzania

Photo from World AIDS Day demonstration in Kibosho, Tanzania

by Arwen McKechnie

Sunday marked the 25th year of remembrance and action on the worldwide pandemic of HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, since AIDS was first identified in the 1980s, it is estimated to have killed 30 million people around the world. There are currently approximately 34 million people living with HIV globally, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

HIV/AIDS is framed differently here in Tanzania than it is in Canada: though all that stigma continues, the prevalence of HIV means that people are aware of the disease in ways that they are not in Canada.

While in Canada, women are becoming a larger percentage of the people living with HIV, in sub-Saharan Africa women have been the majority from almost the beginning. HIV in Tanzania is primarily spread through heterosexual contact, so there is no pretence that infection is something that only happens to certain people who engage in certain behaviours, in the way that there still is in Canada.

Red ribbons flower on street signs, as graffiti on walls, on the t-shirts of women and men walking through the busy streets of Moshi, the town in which I live.

Moshi is the main city of Kilimanjaro Region, home to the mountain and associated tourism, and many agricultural communities growing coffee, bananas and maize. Mount Kilimanjaro dominates the horizon when it’s visible and is hidden behind a wall of clouds so completely at other times that you could forget it is there. It’s a beautiful place.

The social problems that lurk beneath the beautiful scenery and pleasant greetings from strangers are the same ones found everywhere: poverty, youth unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence. Social problems are also treated differently here; whenever possible, problems are dealt with within the family, or an extended circle of friends. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in Feminism Leave a comment

Recommitting to the Vision of a World Without AIDS

by Jarrah Hodge

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. Over two decades since the first World AIDS Day was recognized, much has been achieved. But unfortunately the prevention and treatment tools that have been developed still aren’t available everywhere for everyone. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the day’s theme until 2015 to be: “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS Related Deaths.” But As Kai Wright points out in a post at Colorlines:

Globally, those who have access to social and economic capital avoid the virus or, when infected, live healthy lives with it. Elsewhere, infections and deaths continue to mount.

Wright continues:

These three slices of black America—queer men (however we identify), women and transgender people—hold some of the least social and economic capital in this otherwise wealthy and comfortable nation. In fact, what’s true in HIV is true in just about every other aspect of life in the U.S. Pick the indicator of distress, and you’ll find these groups ranking near the top of those who struggle. HIV is and has always been an excellent measure of who societies value and who they don’t.

Stephen Lewis’ Worlds AIDS Day message talks about how looking at HIV/AIDS on a global scale shows the same inequality. The top ten countries with the highest percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS are in Africa:

Two and a half million new infections last year; 330,000 are children. More than 50% infected in Africa are women…AIDS must be restored to the international agenda. The one place where it’s never been off the agenda is at the grassroots in Africa.

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, LGBT, Politics, Racism 1 Comment

Surviving a Plague, Building a Movement

How to Survive a Plague Posterby Chanel Dubofsky
I have this memory of me, age 8, refusing for some reason to go to the bathroom before we left the house to go to the mall, and my mother saying, “Fine. You’ll have to go in the mall and you’ll get AIDS from the toilet and die in six months.”
I’m pretty sure I went to the bathroom only at our house from then on, and not in strange, unsupervised toilets, but I don’t actually remember. It seemed like a lot of people were scared then,  an insane, unsubstantiated variety of fear. Maybe you got AIDS from kissing, maybe you got it from open sores, maybe from sharing glasses? Maybe it would kill you in six months, maybe in a year. I don’t remember knowing that gay men were getting it, I don’t think I knew what a gay man was. I just knew from the news that was filtered through my mother that people were dying.
Last week, I saw How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the formation and work of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the international direct action advocacy group that formed in New York City in 1987 in response to AIDS, which was rampaging through the gay community without any response from the government.
I went to see the film largely because the hosts of my favorite independent political podcast raved about it, and because I imagined myself drawing all sorts of exciting parallels between ACT UP and Occupy Wall Street. ACT UP and Occupy have worked together and informed one another on issues of direct action and movement building.
Posted on by Chanel Dubofsky in LGBT, Politics Leave a comment

World AIDS Day 2011

Today is World AIDS Day and I’ve been collecting some of the videos coming out for y’all. But first, here are some things can be done to try to “get to zero” new cases of HIV/AIDS and improve support for people living with HIV/AIDS:

- Take care of yourself and your partners. Get tested for HIV.

- Take control and negotiate safe sex.

- Take steps to educate yourself on HIV/AIDS. To start, the Canadian AIDS Society has some good resources.

- Take a minute to learn about the problems with Canada’s Access to Medicines Regimes (CAMR) and urge your federal politicians to act now to make the reforms necessary to ensure people with HIV/AIDS in foreign countries can access life-saving medicine.

We also need to remember that sexism, homophobia, racism, and colonialism are all factors in AIDS transmission. The vast majority of new AIDS cases worldwide are among young women, demonstrating the link between gender inequality and the risk of infection, heightened by gender violence, pressure on young women to have unprotected sex, and inadequate sex education.

As to homophobia, in many countries sex between men is even more stigmatized than in North America, and is sometimes even criminalized. Having to hide same-sex relationships means MSMs are often unable to negotiate safe sex or seek testing or treatment for HIV/AIDS.

Finally, in Canada black people and First Nations people are dramatically overrepresented. Aboriginal people made up 11% of new infections in 2009, despite comprising only 3.8% of the country’s population. According to Ken Clement, CEO of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network: “However, discrimination, ignorance and stigma cause serious road blocks – in our communities and in places where our people receive health care – and challenge our ability to meet these basic rights, which threatens the very integrity of Aboriginal families.”

Any long-term strategy to “get to zero” will need to account for the ways in which social stratification and inequality influences HIV transmission.

So now onto some videos from this year’s World AIDS Day:

Wendy Williams and the National Minority AIDS Council say “HIV Ends With Us”

In his World AIDS Day address, President Obama vows: “We will win this fight.”

Brent & Eliot get tested for HIV in this episode of the web series “It Gets Betterish”. Contains NSFW language.

And finally, though obviously not from this year, enjoy Blanche setting Rose straight on the fact that “AIDS is not a bad person’s disease.”



Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, LGBT, Racism Leave a comment

UN Turns to Crowdsourcing to Fight AIDS

Crowd Out AIDS logoThe Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is now a few weeks into an innovative new initiative to develop new policies to combat the AIDS pandemic.

CrowdOutAIDS is a collaborative online project to allow young people (aged 15 – 29) from around the world to engage in conversations with the eventual goal of crowdsourcing a UNAIDS youth strategy. The program is using a variety of online platforms such as Google Docs, Facebook, Orkut, and blogs to widen the discussion. The plan is for the online component to run for two months (until late December).

The process for CrowdOutAIDS will have four steps and currently we’re in the “Share” stage:

The “Share” stage is about talking about what works and doesn’t work in how our communities fight HIV/AIDS. In the first week in the North America, Western Europe, and the Carribbean (English) group, youth talked about how they wanted to be able to lead and turn their ideas into action. According to moderator Allen Kwabena Frimpong:

“There is a lot of ‘lip service’ about youth participation and engagement, but when it comes down to having any real influence over policies affecting young people or how people perceive or treat young people in their leadership – nothing transformative happens.”

UNAIDS realizes that they also need to reach out to youth who do not have access to computers. Gabriel Adeyemo wrote for the CrowdOutAIDS blog about his experience doing outreach to young people in communities in Africa. He tells about his experience in Nigeria:

“More young people shared their experiences on sexual health and reproductive health issues with me.  One of them said he had to wash his condom after sex so that he can re-use it because there are no availability of condoms near-by and in most cases, they can’t request to buy condom because of their age and religious status. In some communities, the prices of condoms are outrageous which makes young persons wash and re-use them.”

For those of us in Canada who have regular internet access, the only cost to participate is taking a few minutes online. To get involved in the North America, Western Europe, and the Caribbean discussion (English) on Facebook, go to: And you can find information on getting involved in other regions here.



Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Politics 2 Comments