By Hannah Gissane, YWCA Australia. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Hannah shares her experience.
In the days leading up to the International AIDS Conference, a group of us from the World YWCA delegation attended the International Youth Pre-Conference. In a very sobering start to the Pre-Conference, we learnt of the MH17 tragedy. With the news of 298 deaths including a number of AIDS2014 conference delegates, a dark cloud was cast over the conference. Just how profound this loss was for HIV research, activism and advocacy was encapsulated by Purnima Mane, from Pathfinder, who said “we have lost soldiers in the global fight against AIDS, but we will celebrate their legacy.” After a minute’s silence Alischa Ross, from Melbourne Youth Force, facilitated the biggest group cuddle I’ve ever been in! Around 100 delegates turned to the person on their right for a big cuddle – a soul warming start to a sad day.
The hug really set the tone for a Pre-Conference which would espouse a prevailing theme of Love. The Dove Foundation presented early on in the first day describing their four pillars of HIV action – Education, Treatment, Reform and Love. Love was present in the innate solidarity felt in a room full of people motivated to act. There was something refreshing about recontextualising Love, something we associate with our private lives, and bringing it into a public health and policy discourse. Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court Judge, reflected on this saying “I’ve always thought human rights was grounded in love for one another.”
Bill Nicholson, a Wurundjeri Elder, welcomed Pre-Conference delegates to the Kulin Nation. Bill also spoke to delegates about the devastating impacts of colonialism and land theft on Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; providing a clear picture of the ongoing dispossession and disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in Australia.
Among the many speakers we also heard from Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of the Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa for UNAIDS. Shelia’s tenacity and will as a leader was best captured when talked about her determination to bring levels of transmission down by 90% from 2010 levels; when she was appointed to this role. Sheila spoke about the fact that rates of transmission are declining across every age group except for adolescents. In saying this she reminded us that we are making progress and it is important to remember this. There was no better reminder of this than sitting in that room, full of amazing, passionate young community leaders working hard and making change. Being in that room made me feel like we could achieve anything!
There were numerous interactive training workshops and art projects throughout the two days. Greta Williams (YWCA Australia) and I attended an Advocacy Training Workshop facilitated by Results Australia. The workshop was extremely useful and ran through the EPIC principles for formulating a laser or elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a lightning speed way of advocating to your target politicians and media when you don’t have much time. EPIC stands for Engage, Problem, Inform and Call to Action. Greta formulated a great laser pitch for the World YWCA delegation for our time at AIDS2014 with the aim of raising the profile of young women living positively. You can watch Greta’s pitch here!
The Pre-Conference was successful in creating a space where youth was a valuable qualification; our ideas were listened to and recorded for the International AIDS Conference. I’ll leave you with this from Laura John, Melbourne Youth Force Ambassador, who said “when someone tells me that young people are the future, I politely remind them that I am a leader today!”