Tag Archives: Women

The End of Criminalization is Just Good Science

By Marlo Cottrell

As someone who has been living with HIV for over 20 years, I still remember my early years of having to live with this virus. When treatment was often limited and a large number of people were still dying. Trying to navigate through the overwhelming realization that I had to live with this disease, I will tell you that disclosure took practice and I didn’t always get it right as much as I tried. That is a reality for many. Through the decades, we’ve come so far and conquered the enormous summit to accessible treatment here in Canada, easier to manage medication and a life where living with this disease is not a death sentence, but a life with tangible hopes and dreams that flourish.

HIV criminalization has yet to reflect the highly treatable infection we see today; where an undetectable viral15138470_842377852570876_2454002420699421243_o load means the virus stops with us. The legal implications of living with this virus and not disclosing to a partner still garner someone the possibility of convictions of aggravated sexual assault, however. The harshest of sentences relegated to the worst of sexual assaults. Aggravated Sexual Assault: The Criminal Code also allows for increased penalties for sexual assault where the accused “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant.” Transmission does not necessarily have to take place. This carries the hefty sentence of the maximum of 10 years in prison and mandatory registration on the sex offender registry list. As a survivor of sexual assault, I find it the implications of this deeply disturbing, when we as human beings when engaged in consensual sex, have the option to protect ourselves. 1 in 5 people living with HIV do not know their status. As a former sex trade worker who advocated for safe sex on a daily basis, I used to tell my clients, “I don’t know where you’ve been and you don’t know where I’ve been. Out of respect for that fact, we need to protect ourselves and each other.” Today, as it stands, if we are undetectable and use a condom, we do not have to disclose. If we don’t use a condom, we must disclose but the risk is zero with an undetectable viral load. I think the crux of criminalization comes down to, who benefits from these laws? We know these laws are not a deterrent for the spread of HIV, which is what the intent was supposed to be. They only perpetuate and reinforce a false sense of security. The goal is to prevent new infections from occurring. I have sat with a former partner in the waiting room with his requisition form for an HIV test, both of us knowing that he should be tested. That crumpled requisition form landed in the bottom of a garbage can faster than you could imagine.

It is the promotion of zero stigma, zero discrimination and zero new infections that is at the heart of what gets people out and embracing an HIV test. The science has been in for a while now. It protects people from new infections when those of us living with this virus are able to know our status by wiping away the fear of shame and the heavy burden of stigma. HIV criminalization was set forth on a misguided course to protect us, but it does little more than further stigmatize a disease that we are conquering. The end of criminalization is just good science.

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Faces of HIV – Twenty Five

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

maggie

“I was thirty-six when I was diagnosed. I guess for me, what it’s meant is it delayed my life a lot. I thought I was going to be dead. I had little kids … Now, my daughter has a law degree, she opened her own business, then she got elected in Calgary and now she’s the Minister of the Alberta Status of Women and Services. On World AIDS Day, my daughter had the opportunity to do a speech at the Alberta Legislature and she introduced me, her mother. It was a very touching speech. She almost started to cry because she said she remembers wondering if her mom was going to die. I know what she lived through. If her mom would have been diagnosed with breast cancer, she could have had the support of her teachers, friends and neighbours, but she had to worry about them finding out. I’m sure you’ve had friends come stay overnight. But if the parents found out that the mother was positive, do you think they’d ever come back again? I think people still don’t get that there are people out there who’ve lived this totally alone their whole life. They still don’t talk about it or tell people, they’re still afraid of it.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith

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Ross Armstrong was an activist and he wanted life to be better for those living with HIV. After his diagnosis in 1984, he became a part of HIV Edmonton’s (previously the AIDS Network of Edmonton) team and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.

The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of our agency – the drop-in centre – the Ross Armstrong Centre, which is a safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal.

The Ross Armstrong Centre is a constant reminder that HIV is not always the biggest issue that our clients face. The biggest hurdle for most of our clients is accessing what they need to survive – their basic human needs. Our client programs allow us to support and assist our clients during the most chaotic times in their lives and to alleviate some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis – such as securing the 500 calories that are required to take their HIV medications. In order to continue to support our clients in this way, we rely heavily on the generosity of donors.

All money raised during this campaign will go towards supporting our clients who, in addition to living with HIV, struggle to meet their basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health and social services. It would be amazing if we could reach $5,000 by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating: http://tilt.tc/U2VI.

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Faces of HIV – Fifteen

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

rosemary

“My home country is Zimbabwe. That’s where I came from. I came to Canada in 2014. I love it here. I like the people, they are very friendly. I was telling someone that the Canadians are more friendly when comparing to the British people. It’s so different. I really really love it here … I’ve volunteered at HIV Edmonton as a receptionist since March 2015. When I came to Canada, I first got to Toronto and the only thing they told me is, ‘If you want to get a job in Canada, you have to volunteer.’ I really like to work with people living with HIV. In my country, I didn’t have that opportunity, but when I came to Toronto, I volunteered at the HIV office, which is in Oshawa, and then when I came to Edmonton, they referred me to HIV Edmonton. That’s how I came to volunteer here. It’s of great interest to me … What I’ve noticed is that my people, the black community, they don’t want to like, come out, you know. Maybe because of peer pressure, or whatever. I don’t know, but I always feel that if you come out and be open and tell your story, you live a longer life and it’s better for you. So I’m always praying that these people come. There are some people who come, you know, and they see me at the reception and they say, ‘Oh wow, you’re working here.’ I hope it helps people in coming. I have a lady who is now coming because I said, ‘Oh you should come.’ She started by coming to breakfast, then lunch, and now she attends the discussion groups.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith

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Ross Armstrong was an activist and he wanted life to be better for those living with HIV. After his diagnosis in 1984, he became a part of HIV Edmonton’s (previously the AIDS Network of Edmonton) team and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.

The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of our agency – the drop-in centre – the Ross Armstrong Centre, which is a safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal.

The Ross Armstrong Centre is a constant reminder that HIV is not always the biggest issue that our clients face. The biggest hurdle for most of our clients is accessing what they need to survive – their basic human needs. Our client programs allow us to support and assist our clients during the most chaotic times in their lives and to alleviate some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis – such as securing the 500 calories that are required to take their HIV medications. In order to continue to support our clients in this way, we rely heavily on the generosity of donors.

All money raised during this campaign will go towards supporting our clients who, in addition to living with HIV, struggle to meet their basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health and social services. It would be amazing if we could reach $5,000 by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating: http://tilt.tc/U2VI

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Faces of HIV – Eleven

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

faces26545656

“It was kind of hard transitioning from Ottawa to here because I was away from my family for fifteen years too because I was using. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve had contact with my family. I’ve reconnected with them now, now that I’ve stopped using. It was quite an experience. Trying to recognize the younger ones which are older now, I didn’t recognize their faces anymore. I lost touch with them because of my addiction plus I didn’t want them to know how severe my addiction was. I phoned home every once and a while, but they didn’t really know if I was alive or dead. It was quite hard for me. I ended up in jail in 2012. I phoned my sister and when she answered the phone she cried. I didn’t understand what she was crying for, but that made me look at myself and I said, ‘Okay, do I want to be back on the streets and still using or do I want to be with my family?’ I chose my family. So I went though a drug treatment course and did that for nine months then I ended up getting the train here and here I am today.”

“When I reconnected with my family, it was pretty overwhelming. Throughout the years I never cried. I lost my emotions—I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t know how to feel anymore and still today I don’t really know what my emotions are—it’s really hard. It’s hard for me to understand what emotions are because I don’t think I really felt them because I was always under the influence of something. For these past three years I’ve been really trying to work on myself and it’s been hard. I want to have a relationship again, but it’s hard because the only relationships that I had in my life were with addicts and alcoholics, but I want something different. I’m trying to put myself out there to have a different kind of relationship, but it’s hard. I feel it’s hard too because I have HIV so it’s scary to put it out there and let people know, but I’m learning to accept it. I’m undetectable and I’ve been taking my meds. I was infected with HIV in 2007 or 2008 … it’s hard for me to talk about time because, for so long, time had no essence in my life. Everyday was just a day to be homeless so I never really knew what time it was. There are a lot of things that I’m learning to do. It’s still hard for me to measure time. So I’m trying.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith

————————————————————————–

Ross Armstrong was an activist and he wanted life to be better for those living with HIV. After his diagnosis in 1984, he became a part of HIV Edmonton’s (previously the AIDS Network of Edmonton) team and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.

The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of our agency – the drop-in centre – the Ross Armstrong Centre, which is a safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal.

The Ross Armstrong Centre is a constant reminder that HIV is not always the biggest issue that our clients face. The biggest hurdle for most of our clients is accessing what they need to survive – their basic human needs. Our client programs allow us to support and assist our clients during the most chaotic times in their lives and to alleviate some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis – such as securing the 500 calories that are required to take their HIV medications. In order to continue to support our clients in this way, we rely heavily on the generosity of donors.

All money raised during this campaign will go towards supporting our clients who, in addition to living with HIV, struggle to meet their basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health and social services. It would be amazing if we could reach $5,000 by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating: http://tilt.tc/U2VI

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30 Faces of HIV – Eight

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

marlo

“I was diagnosed with HIV about twenty years ago. I started volunteering at HIV Edmonton about three years ago, but I’ve done a lot of volunteering elsewhere.”

“I’m a recovering drug addict and I was a sex trade worker for years down in Vancouver so I really turned my life around several years ago. I got off the methadone and everything else and I like to share my story with people to give them hope that it doesn’t end there and that life after addiction and diagnoses is possible and it’s actually amazing.”

“There’s a lot of judgement surrounding addiction, sex trade, and HIV. Fortunately for me, I’ve got all of that in my story so I like to be very vocal about it to try to change people’s perspectives on what those things mean and about the people those things affect because it’s real people.”

“Changing my life was a long process. I knew I had to change when I was getting sick a lot, ending up in hospitals a lot—I’d almost been murdered a few times—and I knew I wasn’t going to live very long if I didn’t change my life. It started out as small steps and a lot of falls, but I kept getting back up everytime and I kept trying and learning new things with every attempt, which really brought me out of that.”

“I was really lucky in that I got to continue my journey to get better. A lot of people make those attempts but unfortunately, circumstances don’t allow it. It’s a very dangerous lifestyle and there’s a lot of people that prey on people that are very vulnerable, so I don’t really think it’s perseverance and determination so much as luck and a lot of good people helping to show you your self-worth when you don’t feel you have any.”

“I have PTSD now. Which I actually look at as a positive because it gives me the opportunity to say, ‘Okay, this is a journey. This doesn’t just stop. I’m continually growing and changing, and I’m embracing what it has brought me so I can learn more about myself, even with the anxiety and everything.’ To get into those kinds of lifestyles, you usually don’t just start out one day. For a lot of people there’s a lot of trauma and stuff that’s brought them there.”

“I’m working on writing my story so hopefully I’ll get it finished. My story is really crazy. I was in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a lot of friends were going missing at the time. I was down there when Picton was down there. I almost got into his vehicle, but thank God he stinks. That is just one piece of it—living on skid road for years, you’ve got a lot of stories to tell.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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30 Faces of HIV – Four

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

Ami

“How did you start working with HIV Edmonton?”

“From the time I was a medical student, I’ve been interested in HIV. In fact, I remember the very first patient I saw—it would have been in 1986 in England because that’s where I went to medical school. She happened to be a female which was a bit unusual because at the time it affected mostly gay men. This lady had swollen lymph glands, so they had to take her to the operating room, and the porters arrived in space suits, literally. I was working with one of the few infectious diseases doctors at the time, and he was really mad and he told them they had to go away and that they couldn’t take her until they took the space suits off … There was so much fear around HIV in the early years mostly because people didn’t know what was going on, and actually, there’s still a bit of that going on. For example, police and emergency workers having to get patients. When I was with Alberta Health, we, on occasion, had to issue public health orders to bring people in for treatment for, say, syphilis or something and we’d get these calls where police and emergency workers would ask what they needed to wear and we would explain that you don’t need to where anything … we still have work to do there, about how HIV is passed on … It’s been around for what seems like forever. It’s really interesting, despite all of the information available on the internet, people still have misconceptions about how it’s passed on.”

“People still ask really basic questions like, ‘Can I get it by hugging someone who has it? or by kissing or drinking from the same glass? or from using the same utensils?’—really really basic stuff like that … We have a communications problem with AIDS. On the one hand, we’re saying, ‘Don’t get it. But on the other side, if you get it, it’s not so bad.’ It’s become a chronic, manageable disease for people who take the medications regularly; they can do very well, but that’s a big if. I have a lot of patients who don’t take their medications and are still dying of AIDS. Usually socially they are very unstable—using drugs or in an abusive situation. There’s mental health issues, so it’s very very sad … That’s a minority of our patients, but they consume a lot of resources, and some people don’t want to be helped or aren’t in a position where they can be helped. Until we can address some of these other issues … in the end, it’s about poverty and it’s about history, so those things are going to take a long time to change. But it does make me very sad to see people still die of AIDS, and it is happening. We do see that, but it shouldn’t be. We have access to all kinds of resources, but still … Among the men who have sex with men, that’s where we’re seeing HIV coming back as well. That’s concerning, and the messaging there gets really complicated, and I don’t know what the answer is there, I really don’t. I think this is where working with the community is really important to try to come up with strategies around how to address this.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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30 Faces of HIV – Three

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

Deb

“I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 and one of the first places I called, because my doctor suggested it, was HIV Edmonton—back then it was called the AIDS Network. They provided me with support and then I started doing speaking engagements for them, talking to groups of people and training their new volunteers about what the issues are for someone living with HIV, and in particular what some of the issues are for someone living with HIV who has children because at the time I had two children who were very young; my son was a just a baby and my daughter was three when I was diagnosed. I had a community of people around me who were very supportive and lots of friends and family who were all very supportive. I’m very fortunate. I think a lot of people viewed me as a victim because I got it from my husband and so I had a lot of support I think because of that. I know a lot of people don’t get that kind of support so I’m very fortunate to have had that kind of support. But you know, here I am twenty-five years later. At the time, there weren’t many women living with HIV and it was a huge risk for women, and heterosexual people didn’t see themselves as at risk because they bought into the myth that this is a homosexual disease, not a heterosexual disease, which is a myth that persists, surprisingly. But anyway, I managed.”

“The lowest point for me was when I was diagnosed because at the time there were no medications and no hope, so people were dying. Lots of people died who were friends of mine—that I got to know through the work that I did. From back when I first got involved, there’s only two people left alive.”

“I was basically told by my doctor that I would have six months to a year maybe and that I should get my affairs in order—that I should get a will, have guardians for my children, because I was a single mom, I had divorced their father. I was diagnosed after the divorce because I went for life insurance. That’s how I found out. If I hadn’t gone for life insurance, my doctor told me she would never have tested me for HIV. She was a pretty switched on doctor and she had tested me for HIV when I was pregnant with my son, and it was negative, so she had no reason to believe I would be positive. I was in a monogamous relationship, so I thought. So I would say that was a real low point for me. Then over the years I was really sick. I progressed to AIDS in 1994 and I was very very ill, again this was before medications were available so I nearly died a number of times. So yeah, there’s been some low points since then.”

“The high point was seeing my children graduate from high school, seeing them go to university, and my daughter’s graduated from university and she’s going for her masters this fall, and it’s just … I never thought I’d see then grow up. I thought I would be dead before they would grow up at all. So the fact that I made it through when many didn’t and I’ve been able to see that is a gift. I am very blessed.”

“I have two great kids. My son’s going back to school this fall. He’s studying to be a documentary filmmaker. That’s what he wants. My daughter went into the same path as I did. She is working for the Alberta government as a social worker looking after at risk aboriginal youth. It’s a special new program in Calgary. I’m very proud and I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to see all that happen.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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30 Faces of HIV – Two

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

marni

“The best part of my life right now is just being me, right? Just owning whatever it is we got. The best part of my life is also my family and the love that’s in my family and just accepting each other for who we are. We’ve probably never been in a happier place than we are right now in our journey together … Going through gender transition, there’s always the risk of losing family and that, but that’s the one part of my life that’s getting the most stable and has kept me through the challenges.”

“By my family I refer to my spouse and my son, Alex. He’s nine years old, and we’re just this dynamic modern family, and we’re a great family together. The rest of my family are not in my life—my sister, my parents—as I faced my transition and started to live authentically, it’s something they had a difficult time accepting and have decided that I am not a part of their family, so without my wife and my child, I’d be very much alone. So I’m very grateful for their love. Like anybody in our community who’s faced that kind of rejection—especially from family—that’s when it hurts the most, at any age. At forty-four, it sucks, so I can’t imagine at fourteen, which is probably why it took me forty years to find the courage the finally tell them the truth.”

“I’ve chosen to live my life so transparently and visibly as a transgender woman because transgender people don’t have a lot of role models and the role models that we’ve had over the years have been put there by the media, and they haven’t been the most positive stories. So for me, when I share my story so openly that I talk about my spouse, I talk about my work, I talk about my education, I talk about my child, those are all things that other people can relate to. Being transgendered is only one other adjective, and we all have a whole bunch of adjectives. When we spend enough time with each other, we’ll likely find that we’re more alike than different.”

“I joined the community is 2003, so we’re talking about thirteen years, and the community became my family and they saw me for who I was; I saw the community for who they were, just as humans trying to survive in a world that wasn’t always friendly for us. So my community became my family and now some of the best people in my life remain from that. We’re a small community but we need to be there for each other like any family would. Even using the word community doesn’t seem to say it properly because Edmonton is more of a family. You have HIV Edmonton at the centre of a lot of this and it’s truly a family of people who get it and need each other. I’ve travelled to many communities in North America, and Edmonton is a special place, and I think because we’re a bit more isolated than you’d be in Toronto or New York or Vancouver … since we’re smaller, we’re not as fragmented as the various parts of our community would be in those bigger cities. Since we’re isolated, we kind of have to be there for one another. I’ve found that that, in and of itself, has caused a fairly strong family. Everyone knows each other and in a good way. I feel very grateful and am really quite humbled by the care I’ve received in this community. I hope that in some way this awareness we’re creating over the next thirty weeks highlights the value that HIV Edmonton brings to some people who really really need it. But it’s also part of a much bigger part of this community—it’s part of the culture of Edmonton.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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Human Trafficking & HIV in Canada

By Karen McCrae, ACT Alberta

Human trafficking is a serious crime that ranks amongst the most severe forms of exploitation worldwide. It is an issue that often evokes images of young girls coerced in brothels in distant countries, children enslaved on cocoa plantations, or exhausted men forced to work in captivity at sea. However, human trafficking is also happening right here in Canada.

Human trafficking is the act of forcing or deceiving an individual into providing sex or labour for personal gain. Right here in our own country, women, children, and men are working long hours for no pay in dirty and degrading conditions or are being forced to engage in sex acts against their will.

ACT Alberta (Action Coalition on Human Trafficking) has been responding to human trafficking in Alberta since 2008. We work collaboratively with law enforcement, government agencies, and non-government organizations to coordinate services for victims of human trafficking, provide training and education, research and collect data on human trafficking, and build capacity for community-based responses.  We do not discriminate and will assist any victim of any kind of trafficking

The breadth of this issue in Canada is hard to measure as human trafficking is a hidden crime. However, according to the International Labour Organization in 2005, “approximately 12.3 million people were held in forced labor, of which 2.45 million had been trafficked into forced labor. Of those, approximately 1.4 million people were trafficked into the sex sector, the majority of them women and girls.”

Our numbers of referrals have doubled on average Karen Picevery year and we expect our numbers to continue to increase. This is a major problem that Albertans need to be aware of as victims are living and working unrecognized around us – hidden in plain sight.

Although much remains unknown, one thing is certain – trafficked people live out their lives in fear and shame. They are at heightened risk of oppression, violence, and serious health issues. Those who have been trafficked for the purpose of sex are at a much higher risk of contracting HIV, as “[…] the rate of infection is higher among sex workers than the general population [and] many women in the sex sector are victims of trafficking.” (UNAIDS, 2007). Victims are tightly controlled by those trafficking them, who will often not let them call their parents, connect with their children, or speak to friends, let alone receive proper medical care, including safer sex options and birth control. More research is urgently needed to determine the rate of HIV infection amongst those who have been victims of human trafficking, both locally and globally.

Existing research shows that HIV and human trafficking are inextricably linked.  “Denying human rights to any one person perpetrates an injustice that has ramifications far beyond the local level.  Indeed, it cripples globally-supported attempts to stem the spread of [HIV] that has no regard for gender, age, race, marital status, sexual orientation, immigration status, or religion.” (Sippel, 2010). Many of those who have been trafficked come from backgrounds of poverty, addiction, child abuse, or mental illness. Aboriginal peoples in Canada are documented to be disproportionately affected by trafficking due to colonialism and discrimination and it is estimated that Aboriginal peoples, although they make up only 4% of the population, account for 12% of all new HIV infections (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Newcomers to Canada, including Temporary Foreign Workers, students, and visitors, are also disproportionately affected. In addition to being targeted by traffickers, newcomers to Canada from countries where HIV is endemic make up only 2.5% of the Canadian population but account for 16.9% of all new HIV infections (PHAC 2014).

Traffickers know how to use vulnerabilities to their own advantage and they lure victims with hopes and dreams for a better future. In ACT Alberta’s experience, victims often know their traffickers – they may be boyfriends, friends, employers, drug dealers, or others in positions of power. Traffickers deceive, manipulate, or force victims into engaging in sex or labour, using their power over an individual to control them.

If you suspect human trafficking, I urge you to call 911, Crime Stoppers or your local law enforcement. Human trafficking is violent and perpetrators of this abuse are often dangerous. If you suspect human trafficking is occurring, report it – do not get involved.  To end human trafficking, we need community collaboration and support for the most vulnerable among us.  We have a responsibility to stand up against this abuse.

To learn more about human trafficking in Alberta and Canada, visit their website.

 

UNAIDS, Summary of the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic
UNAIDS, Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work (New York: UNAIDS, 2009)
International Labour Organization, ―A Global Alliance against Forced Labor: Report of the Director-General
Human Rights, HIV and AIDS, and the Sex Sector: A Brief Overview, Serra Sippel, President, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
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Violence Against Women & HIV

By Jackie Foord, CEO, YWCA EdmontonJackieHeadshotClose

Last week was another busy week. Most weeks are, but last week seemed busier than usual.  Part of that is the upcoming holidays, but the social activism calendar is jam-packed right now, with days of action and awareness for a variety of causes and issues. Two of those days of action and awareness are on my mind today.

December 1st is World AIDS Day.  That day is meaningful to me.  We’ve all lost so many good people to HIV and AIDS and years later, the stigma and misinformation continues to make life difficult for so many. I did my small part to honour those people by volunteering with HIV Edmonton that day.

December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. As the CEO of YWCA Edmonton, you can imagine that our organization is heavily involved in events that day. YWCA helps women and children cope with, and recover from, the trauma of living with or leaving violence.

As I think about those two events and those two causes, I was struck by the connection between them.

The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed violation of human rights on earth. Over half of Canadian women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. Violence can be sexual, physical, financial and emotional, but regardless of the form it is all degrading and dehumanizing.

Imagine being a woman in a violent relationship. You’re scared for your life. You are scared for your kid’s life. You don’t have the option of refusing sex. You aren’t able to negotiate condom use. You certainly can’t ask him if he has other sex partners.  In a healthy relationship, you could broach any of these topics. In a violent relationship, raising them may cost you your life.

Women who contract HIV while living in violence are not likely to disclose it. The fear of more violence, abandonment and losing your children means you stay quiet. But not disclosing deprives you of the right to access treatment. And if you become pregnant, without proper medical treatment, there is a greater possibility that you will transmit the virus to your child.

The cycle is as vicious as it is violent.

Getting to Zero new infections is an achievable goal; however the unique circumstances presented by women who are in violent relationships make the goal more challenging.

So what can we do? The simple answer is – end violence against women.  Many cities and even countries have thoughtful and bold strategies to eliminate major issues such as poverty and homelessness and they have made meaningful progress. Perhaps, it’s time to create and commit to implementing a comprehensive and bold strategy to end violence against women. Doing so would change the lives of women, and it would make the goal of Zero new HIV infections that much more achievable.

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