CAVETE: contains discussions of and links to explicit sexual matters
Over on Platform 10, David Skelton commented on the lack of people wearing red ribbons for World AIDS Day. One of the two reasons I never wore a ribbon is that I've long finished with the phase when every item of clothing had to have messages appended to it; now, with a cross round my neck and a fish on my lapel, I'm sporting all the iconography I want to.
I suppose something to be thankful for is that the red ribbon is not now seen as compulsory; Ian Hislop famously refused to wear one on the current affairs panel show Have I Got News for You because he "disliked...the compulsory nature of the red ribbon at media events...There are other causes as important as deserving of media attention in this country." Instead, he cut a sheet of paper into an L-shape and pinned it to his jacket - one of his relatives had just died of leukemia.
Another thing to be thankful for is that media outlets who know that prejudice sells papers have stopped ascribing the disease as one that almost exclusively affects homosexual communities, which perhaps gives campaigns like red and alive space to acknowledge that gay men are disproportionately affected (see detail from poster, left).
Other groups who are disproportionately affected are members of sub-Saharan African communities, originating from a part of the world that bears the brunt of two-thirds of the world's 33 million HIV/AIDS cases. Women from these communities, in particular if they belong to communities where it's traditional to breastfeed, can face difficult questions from their peers if they're bottle-feeding their babies.
But the responsibility for passing HIV to them often lies with certain types of African men who see women as property, and ignorantly accept the myth that having sex with a virgin cures AIDS. Jacob Zuma, who became President of South Africa this year, made an astoundingly stupid statement in 2006 that he had showered after having sex with an HIV-positive woman in the belief that this would lessen his chances of catching the virus - but at least he accepts that HIV is the causative organism of AIDS and is allowing palliative anti-retroviral drugs to be given to his people, both of which his predecessor Thabo Mbeki actively fought against. The Focus on Gender feature in The Zimbabwean in August (on page 21 of a 24-page paper) carried a piece about a woman who was gang-raped because a male relative of hers belonged to the wrong political party - then was treated as an outcast by her peers.
Not that in Britain we can claim cultural superiority - the myth of having sex with a virgin to cure a sexually-transmitted diseases, prominently syphilis, has been traced to 16th-century England, and survived into Queen Victoria's time. A disgusting phenomenon of our own times is that called "getting a gift" in Britain and "chasing the bug" in the US, whereby a man who is HIV-negative will deliberately have sex with men who are positive, often in ways that I can't describe even in this post, in order to catch the bug and thereby - either in his eyes or those of others - assume an identity that matters in sectors of gay communities. I say "disgusting" advisedly: when gay lad o' pairts Stephen Fry found out about the practice in his documentary HIV & Me, he couldn't stop his jaw from hitting the floor.
It's no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced recently that HIV is the leading cause of death in women aged 15-44. However, the WHO is not without blood on its hands itself. John Smeaton, Director of SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children), points out that WHO's definition of "sexual and reproductive health" includes abortion on demand, which is more a matter of reducing the population of third-world countries on a eugenics basis than of eliminating acceptance of events like the gang-rape of Maidei Changamire in the article from The Zimbabwean I transcribed, who sees the product of that rape as a "gift God has chosen to bestow, despite all circumstances".
So, the other reason I didn't wear the ribbon is because, although a disease in its own right, HIV/AIDS is often also a symptom of ignorance, prejudice and stupidity, and the fight against these goes on 24/7, not just on 1/12.
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