Linda Scruggs, an African American woman, gave a speech to both scientists and delegates at the International AIDS assembly in Washington D.C. this past weekend. She is also the director of programs at the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, & Families. The conference brought in around 25,000 AIDS activists to address various issues within the community.
Scruggs has been HIV positive for 22 years. A message she brought to the table of the meeting was simple, yet profound. She criticized the focus of HIV research, claiming that it had become too centric around men and does not pay attention enough to women.
“Treatment and systems were not designed for us; [they were] designed for a gay male society,” she said. “No one was thinking about us.”
She said the AIDS battle needs to “meaningfully involve women at all levels of authority.”
Approximately 17 million women worldwide are currently living with HIV, with more than a million new infections in women of reproductive age each year. Both heterosexual women and black women continue to make up for being apart of the rapidly growing demographic of HIV infection in the United States. Worldwide, 3 million out of the 4.8 million of young people living with HIV happen to also be female.
In addition to the testimony of Scruggs, other appeals were given to expand assistance for women in particular. Countries have increased treatment of HIV-infected pregnant women in order to prevent their chances of passing along the disease to their children. Furthermore, according to a CBS news article, “UNICEF’s Dr. Chewe Luo said that most countries do not automatically continue anti-AIDS drugs for those women after their babies are weaned – important for keeping them healthy long-term. She praised Malawi for starting to do just that.
And she said adolescent girls – the 10- to 18-year-olds – are too often ignored by global HIV testing, prevention and treatment programs. Without protecting them, Luo said, all the investment for healthy babies was for nothing.”
Women who take part in the sex industry living with AIDS are perhaps the most marginalized group. An alternative AIDS conference was also held in Kolkata, India where sex workers barred from entering the United States from other countries gathered to have their voices heard. Cheryl Overs, a sex workers’ activist present at the conference, stated, “We need a law that gets commercial sex work out of dangerous places and into safe ones.”
Former First Lady Laura Bush said addition to the AIDS epidemic, “because we’re seeing women living with AIDS — but dying of cervical cancer — the George W. Bush Institute has launched the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon” campaign. The campaign is meant to provide screening for both cervical cancer and AIDS in developing countries. The movement launched this past December, with more than 14,000 women already screened and receiving treatment for cancer as well as HIV.