HIV in Australia: taking personal action

Susan Brennan, World YWCA President

Contributor: Susan Brennan

The power of the Nairobi 2007 Call to Action lies in its call to individual and collective action. We are all personally committed to challenge ourselves and others to respond to HIV and AIDS.It’s up to every one of us to listen, to learn, to advocate and to make change happen every single dayat home, at work and in our communities.

For me, this has meant forging a special friendship with an HIV positive teenager who challenges stereotypes about HIV on a daily basis. She has faced discrimination from schools and from doctors demonstrating how hidden HIV is in our community. She made me realise HIV is an issue for women in Australia, too. From her, I learnt to stop asking how someone “got HIV”. Now, whenever I speak about the priorities of the YWCA, I talk about the vulnerability of young women to HIV and the influence young women have in halting its spread.

I have supported the activities of the leading organisation for HIV-positive women in Australia by attending their picnics in public parks and a powerful photographic exhibition by positive women. The young men and women in my family now expect birthday gifts such as t-shirts, stationery and other literature raising awareness of HIV. My local YWCA partnered with a condom manufacturer to distribute a new brand of condoms innovatively marketed to women, which I distribute to my friends and familyeven to my fellow World YWCA Board members.

During Advent, I used the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance devotions on HIV. I invited friends, family and colleagues to reflect on how violence against women, poverty and gender inequality fuel the spread of the pandemic, and how discriminatory and judgemental attitudes about sexuality are part of the problem.I tell the story shared by the pastor in an Evangelical African Church who preached that AIDS was a punishment from God until she was diagnosed with HIV and ostracised by her congregation and her village. She is now an inspiring advocate for inclusion, compassion and equal access to treatment.

I want all YWCAs to create safe spaces for HIV positive women to participate as equal and accepted peers, to speak out and to lead.Through our leadership activities, training centres, sex education programmes and other work in local communities, YWCAs around the world can build self esteem for all women to negotiate safer sexual relationships, practice acceptance and inclusion, and provide support for carers, orphans and people living with HIV.As World YWCA President, I rededicate myself to our global commitment to HIV to ensure a response to HIV that is part of our local, national, regional and global work.

Source: Common Concern, July 2008

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