Sunday, February 03, 2008

Think BIG!

This past weekend I attended a very informative International Women's Health and Human Rights conference founded by a group of students dedicated to motivating and mobilizing students and community members by bringing attention to issues such as reproductive health, education, violence, and HIV/AIDS.
Our purpose is to demonstrate to students both the need and opportunity to act, as well as to provide direct support to women's groups that are already making a difference. Our goal is far-reaching: to empower women around the world by inspiring our generation to take action.
The two sessions I attended focused on HIV/AIDS and violence against women, respectively. The keynote speaker for the first session was Dr. Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He is an incredible speaker and is able to describe the desperation of the issues in a very eloquent manner. He commented about the differences in the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa compared to the face of the pandemic in Asia or Latin America. While HIV/AIDS is considered "generalized" in Africa, impacting predominantly heterosexual couples, in Asia and Latin America the prevalence is highest in high-risk populations such as sex workers and Intravenous Drug Users. An emphasis was placed on how we have to work towards ensuring it doesn't become a generalized pandemic in these places, and prevent the impact we are observing in Africa. It was a very interesting point. One of the panelists in this session works for a grassroots organization called GRACE (Grassroots Alliance for Community Education). She told us the story of a 91-year old grandmother who, despite the loss of 12 sons and daughters to HIV/AIDS, is the sole care-taker of her 16 grandchildren who are all orphans. It was a very powerful story that brought the issue into perspective. An entire generation of people have been wiped out by this pandemic and this has dire consequences on the social fabric and stability of communities and countries. The main argument made was that while these health and human rights issues in and of themselves are important global issues that need to be tackled, we have to keep in mind how they are adversely impacting women around the world and what this means to the stability of communities in all countries.

On a final note, one of the speakers said something which I thought was really important to share, "The first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive".

A book I am currently reading related to these issues is called From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice. The conference was supported by the Global Fund for Women.

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