Today I attened a local/global dialogue on women and AIDS. The panel was sponsored by the UNAIDS council on women and addressed ways to empower women and thereby fight AIDS. Yes, AIDS and HIV affect men as well, but for women, particularly in developing nations, women are disadvanted and often have little negotiating power within their relationships and circumstances. And as one woman on the panel put it, women are not the victims, they are empowered to take center stage in the fight against this pandemic.
In the Q and A, I asked about the influence of religion, both positive and negative, on the fight againt AIDS. The panelists had nothing but discouraging things to say. The representative from Honduras noted that there are so few ministers do anything to help the AIDS crisis that it is impossible to locate them. An antrhopologist and lobbyist both stated the importance of the church in fighting AIDS and lamented that getting churches to do anything about it is extremely difficult.
The representative from Zambia spoke of her pain in losing both her husband and brother to the disease and blaming God when she herself contracted it. The reigning idea taught by Christian churches in her country is that HIV and AIDS is a judgement. She spoke to a council of Zambian church leaders wearing a t-shirt that said "HIV is not a punishment from God--John 8:11". In forming a support group that now boasts 1000 members, she has found joy in the church again but finds is hard to locate a congregation that does not stigmatize people with AIDS.
I wanted to apologize to every panelist for the lack of action on the part of the Church. I told one woman that she had my word I would talk to my ministers about how to help with the AIDs crisis. Get informed... I was ashamed at the lack of knowledge and perspective I had about AIDS after the dialogue. I'll fight.