Pushing the Barriers: AIDS 2012

As the 19th International Conference on AIDS continues, two MORE inspiring young women from the YWCA share their reflections:

 Hannah Yurkovich’s World YWCA Intern from Kent University, USA

Hannah Yurkovich

I have been excited to be involved in the 19th Biannual International AIDS conference in Washington DC, but before arriving here, I did not know what I expected to see. Since arriving, I have not been at all disappointed, and my first thoughts after entering the Convention Centre with the other 21,000 delegates, was that people here were by far very passionate about ending AIDS. Many of those attending are HIV positive, and not hesitant to hide their status, something I have never observed before. I am certain that this will be a unique and valuable experience for me, and that I will learn a lot about one of the world’s most real and widespread issues.

I have been fortunate enough to have never personally known anyone who has been affected by the AIDS pandemic. Yet from the very first session that I attended, it struck me how many people’s lives had been changed directly and indirectly. That which had been a secret not to be disclosed even to one’s closest friends and family was now being shared through detailed personal stories by many of the speakers. One particular example that stuck out to me was the presentation on body maps that one young HIV positive woman shared with us. The traumatic and unspeakable suffering that many of the marginalized women experienced, who were HIV positive, who had gone through physical, sexual and psychological violence or who were transgender, was drawn in graphic images highlighting their physical and psychological wounds. This was a perfect example of how a diverse community can find security in opening up, when one individual chooses to share what is vital in standing up for one’s human rights. Even though I was encouraged to hear that action was taken in utilizing such exercises, in presenting evidence of gender based violence to the government, it was saddening to hear how the justice system and the police played a part in the oppression that this marginal population went through.

The opening ceremony could be summarised in a message of hope. Each speaker represented a different cultural group with a different connection to the AIDS movement. But there was optimism in the air, reminders of the successes that science had achieved through history, and promises to support the fight to free the next generation of the pandemic.  I look forward to hearing more success stories as well as supportive reliable statistics in how progress is being made in ending mother to child transmission of the virus, ending social prejudices, making treatment prevention, and turning this former death sentence into a condition that enables people to lead long and comfortable lives.

 Dana Awwad from YWCA of Palestine 

Dana Awwad

First and for most, I am grateful and thankful for the YWCA for providing me with this opportunity of attending the 19th International AIDS Conference. It is a great pleasure to be here and to experience what I am currently experiencing. I have been to a number of conferences before, but this time the experience is different. I am attending this conference as a health care advocate being part of the YWCA of Palestine and not as a scientist. The information I am seeking is not the same, not experimental designs nor scientific data, but approaches, solutions, and success stories. However, after the Interfaith Pre-Conference I realised the difficulties that health advocates and HIV patients are still facing in their community.  Unfortunately, science has come a long way and has produced impeccable solutions while humans still have a long way to go. I was devastated to learn that women are still undermined and unfairly treated in many if not most parts of the world. Women are still violated, women are still raped, women are still forced to work as prostitutes, and children are still born to live a dark future. I don’t want this to happen to my family, friends, and people. AIDS is not a serious issue in Palestine, but there are many vulnerable and risk groups and their numbers are on the rise. There are many factors affecting the health and lifestyles of Palestinians, and I hope we act now to save our future before the danger is out of hands. On the bright side, I heard many success stories.

I learnt that since 2009 in the capital of the Unites States of America, Washington DC, no one child has been born HIV positive! I have heard the promises and commitments of the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when she declared the commitment of the Obama Administration towards HIV and AIDS. The United States will grant millions of dollars to science and research and the health sector. Finally, in a special meeting with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, the YWCA delegates learnt that they are not the only women advocating for women’s health and rights. Representative Schakowsky is one of the advocates for the International Violence against Woman Act (IVAW). I am in my second day of the conference and I am positive that there is still more to learn and more to be inspired by.