Good evening. I am so delighted to be here and would like immediately to thank the College of Arts and Sciences for asking me to present this year’s Blazer Lecture. I have enjoyed sharing with my friends and colleagues that this distinction is typically reserved for Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel Laureates and scholars with very deep benches (one of very few, I promise, references to basketball I will make tonight). It’s been a fun, if not slightly perverse, way to put an awful lot of pressure on myself.
The title of my talk is “At the Root of My Longing, Social Justice, Feminism, and Spirituality”. What I aim to do is express the lineage of my current activities as the Global Ambassador for YouthAids and board member of Population Services International, with my academic roots here at UK, to define a bit for you the terms I use, and to share with you, most importantly, the world wide human rights work in which I have been so extraordinarily blessed to take part. Through the often heart breaking stories of just a few of the many vulnerable people I have met, girls and women in particular, I will illustrate how gender inequality is the root of the HIV/AIDS emergency, the worst plague in human history, and how nothing short of a complete and total gender revolution will there ever be relief, lasting stability, and peace in our world. Through these individual stories and the nexus of their reproductive health, I will touch briefly on the lack of educational, economic, and legal empowerment of girls and women and its ongoing roll in the unspeakable suffering for billions of people with whom we share our planet.
When I came to UK in 1986, I was unsure of myself. I had bounced around to a great many schools, more than once discovering I would be moving that fall via phone calls from parents the content of which was relayed to me by a concerned grandparent. I had been told I was smart and special, and I was expected to be fairly perfect and represent the family at school academically and in the various standard actives with charm, poise, consistency and ease. But while there was love in my various households, there was also a lot of chaos and dysfunction. As a result, I was pretty confused about my alleged gifts: Was I smart? Was I gifted? Was I even capable? One of the things that really threw me was that in my little girl’s mind I had somehow made up that if one were smart, everything should be effortless. If one were talented, one should not have to try hard. As a result, even when I made good grades in high school, I was riddled with the haunting fear I was profoundly and deeply a fraud.
Thankfully, at UK all of that changed for me. The stability of joining my godmother’s sorority and tapping into that continuum grounded me in a meaningful way. I would live in the same house for 4 years in a row, for only the second time in my life. My first term introduced me wonderful professors who were so exciting to be around, such as Dr Bob Rabel, who taught my Honors class. In my second semester here, I really hit pay dirt and my life changed exponentially and forever. I landed in courses taught by the great Dr Jeanine Blackwell, Dr Christine Havice, and Dr Susan Abbott Jamison. Inspired by them, I began to experience the rewards of actually working hard, asking for help and support as I did it, and discovering the mentors, these scholars were there for me. I could feel my brain literally expand, I could feel new thoughts germinate and grow, I could feel areas of my brain crackle with earnest life and confidence where previously there had been only fear, guilt and debilitating shame. In the most meaningful way, I grew up. Here at this university, I came of age. At that time, I figured out what I wanted to be for the rest of my life: Me, just more so. I loved school, the process, the results. What I learned here at U.K. communicated with my spirit on the most profound level and I chose classes that went to the core of my humanity and inspired fantastic emotion in me, such as “Images of Women in 17th Century Art” and it companion class, “Images of Women in 17th Century Lit,” “Women’s Studies” and Cultural Anthropology courses and “Images of Women in the Bible.’ My sense of fairness, or more accurately, unfairness, was being keenly developed, equipping and motivating me for the life of service I now enjoy.
At UK and beyond, I wanted to continue in this new way, thinking hard thoughts and having been raised in church, asking even harder questions about why things are the way they are, and how could there be a God in the midst of it all, and could that God be, in spite of the stunning misogyny in nearly all religions and most scholarship and in the cultural assumptions and practices around the globe through out recorded history, could that God be, to quote Patricia Lynn Riliey, a God who looked like me? And perhaps this God looked not just like I, but maybe like the dirty, poor, wretched, exploited minorities who world wide were actually the majority? Could that God be, in the worlds of feminist theologian Sallie McFague, “She, he, and neither?” Intuitively, definitively, irrevocably, I knew the answer was yes. Absolutely. Led in particular by the brave and brilliant scholarship of Jeanine Blackwell, Susan Abbott Jamison, and often inspired by the relentlessness of Jewish inquiry, I knew it was okay to, and that in fact that I had to, stand in front of thousands of years of patriarchy and the chaos it has wrought for human history, and say, THIS IS NOT THE TRUTH.
Now, before I lose each and every man in the audience, and they storm out muttering, “I liked that uppity Ashley Judd better when all she did was come to ball games, jump around a little bit, mouth off to referees and Florida players,” allow me to define my terms. Let’s begin with patriarchy.
Firstly, let me state what patriarchy is NOT. It is not men. It is not boys. It is, rather, a system that is male centered in which both sexes participate, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Patriarchal societies are organized in terms of the experience of men as they have been able to define and elaborate on it. Patriarchal religions, of which Christianity is one, gives us a God that is like a man, a God presented and discussed exclusively in male imagery, which legitimizes and seals male power. It is the intention to dominate, even if the intention to dominate is no where visible (Here and throughout I quote Drs Gerda Lerner and Carol Lee Flinders, and Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem. All references and sources are on your hand outs.) Another term, which is less charged, is “Andocentric,” but I am joyously an uppity Sicilian Hillbilly and I’ll stick with patriarchy, thank you very much. It is my pleasure to make you slightly uncomfortable.
What exactly is it the patriarchy seeks to dominate? Women’s reproductive function. Where does this come from? In brief:
When, due to social stresses, especially stress on the environment, and the advent of new tools, gathering and hunting faded and settled agirculturism arose, women’s ancient, encyclopedic knowledge of plants, for both food and medicine, became devalued. We suddenly were viewed as having less to contribute within this new food system, and eventually, millions of us in Western Europe were burned as witches for possessing and practicing the very knowledge that once fed and healed the human race. Additionally, as the importance of physical strength for clearing land, plowing, and farming increased, and the attendant need for the defense of “private property” arose, women lost even more status. We went from earth and mother goddess to be revered and honored for the fact we bleed each month, to having our very maternality used against us. In conflict and violence, the tactic of rape subdued us; any of our own surviving families would not take us back as we were pregnant by our enemy, and being pregnant discouraged us from leaving the group who had abducted and raped us, as without them, we would have no safety and social system within which to birth and rear our young. Simultaneously, our child bearing capacity became commodified, considered an asset to be traded forward in marriage in which the girls being given, bought, and sold had, until very recently, no choice and no voice. The complete reification our reproductivity was in place and it became institutionalized for all of us to live this way. To this day, a common vestige of male dominion over a woman’s reproductive status is her father ‘giving’ away her away to her husband at their wedding, and the ongoing practice of women giving up their last names in order to assume the name of their husband’s families, into which they have effectively been traded, in an interesting twist, cancelling out their own lineage, even though it is their father’s name with which they most likely have been raised.
I think patriarchy gives boys and men just as raw a deal as it does girls and women, even as it gives them power, legitimacy, entitlement, and authority. I deeply believe the exquisitely painful surgery required on the male psyche to assume and maintain the lie of male superiority and the objectification of women comes at very heavy spiritual toll. The definitions of manhood the patriarchal system provides, to quote Flinders again, “are unbelievably arid and limiting, and come at a terrible, terrible cost.” And for a bit of tokenism, Mike Messner and Don Sabo say, “There is something rotten in the ways that manhood has been defined and the ways men relate to one another, to women and to the planet.” Even if you object to every word out of my mouth the last 10 minutes, you surely admit boys and men are persuaded to de humanize, maim, and even lose their lives, all because they are men, and by golly, in a patriarchal world, that’s what boys and men do! Thank goodness, Messner and Sabo add, “Increasingly, men are beginning to reconsider the violence they have shown toward women and one another.”
We girls and women are very often cooperating with this male dominated system, consciously and unconsciously. Has anyone been to Las Vegas lately, or watched, oh, anything on TV in the past 24 hours? For an excellent book that explores one southern, Christian woman’s journey from unconscious complicity with the patriarchy to the Sacred Feminine, I refer you to Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter.” I’d like to thank my Sister for giving me that life enhancing book for my birthday this year. She also gave me the Flinders book. Later I will give you an example of my own vivid awareness of how I look to the patriarchy to validate my own thoughts and beliefs.
So that is patriarchy and where it came from in a nut shell.
Now, onto feminism. Feminism is for me, very simply put, The Truth. It is Satya. Satya is a Sanskrit word that means, “that which is real,” and, “the highest truth”. The meaning as applied to spirituality is “all of life is one.’ Often my understanding of something is deepened by looking at its opposite. Feminism, therefore, is not the lie that one person can ever be justified in exploiting another. As Mahatma Gandhi put it, “Any attempt by one individual or race or class or gender to oppress another is a violation of unity.” Feminism teaches me that all life unified, is equal and sacred, that no one person ever, ever, ever has more status, meaning, or worth, than another.
In this definition, you see clearly how my feminist and spiritual instincts are inextricably bound, and more specifically, how they actually are one and the same. My faith and spiritual practice constantly reinforces my feminism, my feminism cross pollinates, deeply animates, and inspires my faith.
The remaining term to go over is social justice, which was hinted at by my reference to Gandhi. Here is where Satyagraha comes in, the verb version of this meaningful Sanskrit word. Satyagraha is a fierce clinging to the truth, and it is a way of life that constantly invites me to surrender again and again to the truth that all life is One, the interconnectedness of all beings, and to look deep past perceived differences and distinctions. Satyagraha can be used to reference a specific act of non violence or a whole way of life. Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against himself once he became cognizant of all the petty tyrannies he had directed at his wife. An interesting footnote is that he borrowed this word form the 19th century Indian Suffrage Movement. One could say it is matrilineal. This word, for me, expresses the complete consolidation of faith, feminism, and social justice.
It is not lost on me that I have to reach outside the English language, my own language, to sum myself up. I believe in that in this culture most of our most fundamental practices and assumptions are hierarchical and therefore are profoundly at odds with spiritual growth and a peaceful, safe society that values all its people.
What are the results when women have been excluded from not only the formation of our government, but the formation of theories and philosophies upon which government and society is built? When the world is a reflection patriarchal values, the patriarchal way of doing things and is an expression of the direction the patriarchy not only wants to go, but how it wants to get us there?
For but a few American statistical examples, the department of defense web site tells me our aggregate war budget this year will be 663 billion dollars. The labor department web site tells me the average pre school teacher will earn less than $21,000. Here we are in 2006, yet only 74 women serve in our congress of 535 elected officials. Women make up slightly more than the population of our country, yet we are no where near comprising half our government. At our current rate of change, it is estimated to be 300-700 years before there is gender parity in America!
I’d like to propose that the society in which we live is, in fact, extremist and radical. It is so skewed, massively out of balance; the result of one sex ruling and objectifying another for at least the last millennia. Yet we are so conditioned to accept this as the norm that many of us have difficulty even conceiving of an alternative. Furthermore, any alternative that is proposed is chided as impossible at best and dangerously anarchist at worst. Those of us who dare to speak of an inclusive, cooperative, balanced society that doesn’t go about governing and solving problems the way it has always are called the radicals and extremists.
(You know, I am asked a lot if I will someday run for office, often enough, in fact, that if I had a nickel for each time I’ve been asked, I could fund a campaign. But a speech like this, such an unguarded chunk of my truth is very likely to completely disqualify me.)
Tell me, where is the peace I seek and when esteem 8.4 million of our beautiful children receive inadequate health care and have no health insurance at all? Our country is the only modern democracy without a national system for childcare and healthcare, which we women need about 30% more than men because of our children and childbearing capacity.
Where are the priorities I value when a miniscule fraction of our defense budget could immunize all of the unimmunized American children? When we know that prison populations and child abuse are predicted by 3rd and 4th grade reading skills, but we spend 67.7 billion dollars on prisons and jails each year, but 1.01% of that amount is spent on Head Start, which is proven to increase reading levels and social skills of our at riks kids, especially minorities?
As Ursula K. Le Guin said, “What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”
I am grateful to be a part of the solution by being the Global Ambassador for YouthAids, and board member of Population Services International. To clear up any potential confusion, YouthAids is PSI, it is simply the name for our HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives within PSI. PSI is a non governmental organization with grass roots programs in 65 countries world wide. With an annual budget of 350 dollars U.S. we receive funding from the United Sates Agency for International Development, many western European governments, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, as well as other foundations, corporations, and individuals. Founded in 1970 by 2 retired diplomats who had served throughout Africa, and who were deeply frustrated by the many obstacles in developing countries to providing critical services to the most poor, our efforts focus on family planning, STD and HIV prevention, clean water programs, malaria prevention, and micro nutrients. In other words, the heavy burden of disease carried by the poor. A brief word about the staggering need to address all of these issues:
My statistics are the latest from World Health Organization, United Nations, UNFPA, and UNICEF. They are numbing, so I put them on your hand out. Again, to me, these numbers reflect the consequences and results of patriarchal expressions, both practical and abstract, via colonialism, environmental dominionism, first world economic piracy, devaluation of indigenous cultures, lack of educational and economic empowerment of girls and women, and of course, war. The burden of disease this has created is stunning, and it rages unabated while only 10% of all medical research dollars are spent on the diseases and ailments that afflict 90% of the world’s population.
Annually, there are 66 million unintended pregnancies and more than 500,000 women die from pregnancy related causes, nearly all deaths occurring in developing countries. Since HIV was named, 25 million have died, currently 40 million world wide are infected, with a rate of 11,000 new infections and 8,000 deaths daily. A shocking 340 million people are infected each year with one or more of the 4 major, curable STDs (gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis, and trichomoniasis). Well over 1 billion people world wide do not have access to safe water; that number is rapidly approaching 2 billion. Under age 5 alone, there are 1.6 million annual deaths due to simple diarrhea caused by unsafe water. Malaria remains a source of great suffering and misery, and causes between 1-3 million deaths per year. Malnutrition is linked to 50% of under age 5 deaths, and iron-deficiency anemia prevents 40-60% of infants in developing countries from growing to their mental potential.
Every single one of those deficits, infections and deaths is caused by a totally preventable disease. And prevent, at a torrid pace, is what we do at PSI.
PSI’s strategy for achieving large scale health impact centers on marketing and distributing life saving products and positive behavior change information. Some of our life saving products include insecticide treated malaria nets, water purification solution, birth control and condoms, which are distributed via commercial markets. This is called “Social Marketing.” It is sustained access to equitable and efficient markets for health products, services, and information. It engages private sector resources and techniques to encourage health markets work better for lower income people. It fills a critical gap between what governments provide and poor populations can afford to buy, and believe you me, I see the irony of working with an ngo that relies on and believes in free markets to empower poor people. Part of what I love about what we do is tapping into the existing commercial infrastructure to deliver life saving goods….If beverage giants can get cold, fizzy drinks to the most remote parts of the world, why not persuade the company to carry condoms or clean water solution sachets on those trucks! If some governments have post natal services, why not add malaria prevention tools to what they are currently able to do.
This straightforward, measurable, and effective approach to improving the health of the poor and vulnerable differentiates us from other international development organizations. Our management is decentralized, with in country staff, many of whom are indigenous, exercising their best judgment, creating outreach and programs based on their keen understanding of the cultures and micro cultures they serve. Our staff (70% of the Americans began in the Peace Corps, by the way), country by country, competes with one another for funding. Each applies annually for grants for its programs, and only the best and highest impact are rewarded. This very progressive business model keeps us lean and creative, and I am proud to say our global overhead is less than 7%. At YouthAids, it costs only $10 per year to protect and educate a young person for an entire year; all our health outreach in the aggregate costs $22 per person, per year. These very modest investments in saving lives yield stratospheric returns.
We also use something called “Cause Related Marketing” to raise both money and consciousness, which are at least equally important, with consciousness perhaps edging out the money. Cause Related Marketing is when we approach a brand and ask them to sell their goods with a pre determined amount of the revenue to be directed toward our programs. The (Red) campaign, led by Bono, Bobby Shriver, and Jamie Drummond, is a great example of cause related marketing. Consumers get the products they desire, such as Emporio and Gap clothing, an iPod or other Mac product, cool Converse shoes, and a chunk of the money goes, in the case of (Red), to the Global Fund. The Global Fund based on rigorous evaluation then grants to the money to programs, such as ours, that save people’s lives. Bono calls this “Off the rack enlightenment,” and encourages us here in wealthy countries to “Shop til it stops,” meaning until entirely preventable and treatable diseases are eradicated. I am very proud to say that Kate Roberts, the founder/director of YouthAids, has pioneered cause related marketing and helped pave the way for the incredible momentum of (Red), which is providing anti retrovirals to sick Africans, over 90% of whom could never afford the drugs that keep them alive and return them to their families and society. One of our CRM campaigns was with the shoe giant Aldo, which raised over 1 million dollars for our programs as well as 1.5 billion media impressions world wide out HIV prevention!
Earlier I mentioned we measure our health impact. This is a critical, non negotiable part of our mission. We must be able to prove to ourselves and to our donors the numbers of lives we save, or to be more specific, the number of years we add to people’s lives. We do this primarily in 2 ways:
Firstly, we sell our products, which allows us to track all sales at points of distribution, and we can therefore measure lives saved the way a for profit company keeps track of its profits. (I digress for one moment about selling goods: research shows poorer populations greatly value items for which they have paid, no matter how small the sum, and are far more likely to use them as a result. Additionally, selling life saving goods creates the ability to market them, which creates awareness campaigns. Relying on governments, regimes, and donors to distribute necessarily goods is extremely problematic and troublesome, in addition to creating a dangerous expectation that the government will always be handing out essentials.)
Secondly, we use the international metric standard of measurement, called “DALY.’ DALY stands for “disability adjusted life year.” We can calculate, based on the life saving goods we sell (and in some instances of extreme poverty give away), how many years we help add onto a person’s life. We measure number of years of life gained. In 2005, PSI gained 9 million years of life for the people we reached! In 2006, we will add 10.9 million years of life!!!!! What an awesome thing to contemplate. The way it works is when we, for example, provide a 5 year old child with an ITN (insecticide treated malaria net), and supply the mother with our communication and behavior change information, as well as follow up with the family to track correct and consistent net use, we know we have prevented that child’s death by malaria. We have added DALY’s to that child’s life.
Calculating DALY’s in provable terms is very serious business. It literally is a matter of life and death, because our programs’ success is contingent upon measurable health impact, which then determines our success in fund raising, and of course that money drives our ability create and staff grassroots programs for the most desperate. There are people with very unique brains who do nothing but this sort of thing. At PSI.org there is more information about the measurability of our health impact and I support any of you special people with stats as your hobby to enjoy!!! You might even really like the mathematical modeling, which we also use to graph, chart, measure …all I know is I really like and am very proud of our results.
In 2001 I was filming a movie in San Francisco and a couple of really fascinating people began calling me and bothering me a lot. I was glad for them to bother me, because, as I said, they were fascinating, and what they were saying was compelling: that 6,500 HIV+ Africans dying a day is not a cause, but an emergency, and that I could do something about it. They told me about entire families wiped out and a generation of orphans and 11 year olds caring for the siblings and cousins and beautiful, ancient cultures vanishing and the economic destruction and politic unrest that is everywhere as a result, and I heard about the famed wood crafts section of Harare, Zimbabwe now being devoted entirely to coffin making. I heard this was a profound and real threat to our security, the global economy, to our humanity, and I really wanted to believe I could do something about it, just as here at UK in the late ‘80s I wanted to believe I could do my part in ending Apartheid. So I listened, and then my husband and I got on a bus to tour mid-Western states with Bono and other activists to reach out to average Americans. Our cri de ceour was President Truman’s statement that when Americans have the facts, they do the right thing. Our passionate belief was that Americans in those cynically referred to ‘fly over states’ cared about Africans dying of preventable diseases, and thus my new career, the career I consider my real job, was born. I am deeply grateful to Bono for his profound spiritual mentoring of me in this work and the endless opportunities Kate Roberts has provided for me to travel the world, and share with heads of state and lawmakers, including our own, about what I have seen, and what some of the solutions are.
Soon after, I took my first trip to see PSI programs in action. Scared to death and inspired in spite of that fear. However, nothing, nothing could have ever prepared me for what I saw, what I felt, and how much I vomited after I visited destroyed sex workers in a brothel for the first time, and how I grieved over the relentless shock of slums as far as the eye could see. Those early trips for me were baptism by fire, and I nearly got all burned up. But fortunately, the hope and the effectiveness of grassroots programs and the dedication of unsung heroes who work tirelessly in the service of the poor, kept me going. I am now better able to travel the world outside our American reality with people living in appalling destitution, and to represent their reality to audiences such as this with better spiritual, mental, and physical health. At first though, it was very, very rough going for me. I had to learn a lot about how to protect myself in the midst of it all. In particular, I now know I need to stay grounded and healthy so I may share with stories such as :
This picture was taken in a vile, filthy little hotel brothel in Nairobi, where, upon checking into a room, a surcharge for a condom is added on to protect both the CSW and the client from STD, HIV, and unintended pregnancy. Schola is from the Meru tribe, one of 7 children. Her mother died in an accident when she was 12, possibly from domestic violence, and her daddy died of TB when she was 15. 3 of her siblings have vanished. As a female, Schola had no legal rights, so father’s relations took her father’s land, upon which she had been living on. With only 6 years total of school, and very little knowledge of reproductive health, she became pregnant by her boyfriend at age 15. At 18, she was pregnant again, and when she was 2 months along, her boyfriend left her. Unable to feed her toddler the increasing amount he needed as he grew, and hungry herself, while still pregnant she resorted to sex work. She worked in this brothel until she was 8 months, and went right back to it while still nursing her second child. The only person she had ever shared her story with is her mentally handicapped sister, whom she looks after on her meager earnings. One of her children has chronic infections which cause her great anxiety and she was deeply in debt. Her story is very, very common. During a lively peer education session n a brothel in Madagascar, I asked everyone how they ended up there and the answer was a dismissive wave of the hand, “Oh, you know, same old story.” Husband left, too many children too fed, no knowledge of sex ed, no land of their own, no education, no skills, no opportunity.
The only good news I can share with you about Schola is that she knows, because of outreach at that brothel, how to negotiate and insist on condoms. She can holler out for Sammy, the owner, who inherited the business from his father, if someone starts to resist, or worse. We are protecting her and the 10 clients she needs each day to live, from HIV.
These photos are from the notorious Svay Pak brothel district near Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. The sex workers with whom I am here visiting are all already HIV+, and we, with our partner ngo’s, provide them with information about the critical importance of correct and consistent condom use. This information is provided in a medically accurate and very upbeat way. As you may imagine, their lives are already exceedingly difficult, so we use positive forms communication, such as games and art, for teaching them why they must protect their partners. The woman in this photo is the Minister of Health and she is a hero of mine. There is saying in Khmer, men are like diamonds, but women are like white cloth, and she decided, single handedly, she was changing to, men are like diamonds and women are like precious jewels. A big part of what I do is just listening to disempowered people share their stories in a non shaming setting. In most cases, no one has ever really listened to them before.
This woman runs another upbeat CSW outreach. Most of these women are not yet HIV+, and hopefully, by virtue of grassroots peer education, they never will be. The education sessions are very lively and dynamic, and, like all our programs world wide, make careful use of oral teaching to make sure the non literate can learn easily. Also, at this drop in center, they learn personal hygiene and grooming. They learn how to make small goods such as this sweet little purse I am holding here. Learning a trade creates healthy self esteem as well as generating a little income. The poverty line in Cambodia is .50 a day.
This stunning woman with a radiant smile told me how she got into sex work. Garment factories are a major source of employment for Cambodian women, and a friend said, “Oh, come on along, I have a job for you in a factory.” She was taken to a hotel, where to her horror, she learned her friend had sold her to a man for sex. She was a virgin, so she’d been worth a lot to her friend, who was also desperate. The man kept her in the hotel room for 1 week and abused her obscenely. She was threatened with death and did not fight back. At the end of the week, he put her in a brothel where he told her she had to earn back the money he had spent on her. I never can grasp this math, how she has to earn back what he spent on her. She works as a peer educator for other CSW. The small amount of money we are able to pay her reduces the number of clients she needs each day to eek out a living. This indentured sex servitude is very common.
It’s too bad she didn’t end up in a garment factory, as awful as the standards mostly are. We have workplace outreach programs that bring me a lot of joy; in the period of 1 lunch, I saw us, with a partner NGO’s, educate over 1,000 at risk women about their reproductive health. Using art, games, songs, and dynamic, charismatic peer educators, life saving information is disseminated and those women become more empowered, as well as given the challenge of sharing their new education with 10 further women. I am very proud of our work place programs.
Next picture is of a school outreach. These kids, as you can see by the discoloration of their hair, are very malnourished. Their growth is also stunted, they are much older than their small size would suggest. Because of their vulnerability to human trafficking and sexual exploitation, reach out to them with medically accurate sex education. Many of them are orphans and already HIV+.
These pictures tell some of the story of HIV and married women:
The highest new HIV infection rates are often amongst married women, because in so many countries and cultures, it is still accepted and encouraged that men will have multiple sexual partners outside of marriage. For example, a night out for men in Thailand almost always ends in an obligatory stop at a brothel, which come in many guises: beer gardens, karaoke stands, bars. Men become HIV from sex workers (you see now the why for our tremendous outreach to sex workers) and bring the virus home to their wives, who have no clout to insist on condoms, and are at risk of physical violence if they suggest one. This illustrates why it is so importance to have a balanced approach that identifies both men and women as the keys to curbing the spread of HIV, and the real need for the development of microbicides, which provide invisible birth control and HIV prevention and can be used by women without their partners knowing. Melinda Gates speaks often and well about the need for microbicides. When they are developed, they must be made available and adaptable to girls and women, where ever they may live.
Some of the ways we reach out to men to encourage them to change their behavior is by involving courageous regional masculine heroes and asking them to film commercials, PSA’s, and ads that can be placed on the sides of rural buildings, talking about why abstinence, being faithful, and condoms are cool, amongst other healthy behaviors. For good or for ill, pop culture reaches billions of people, so at YouthAids, we take this influence and reach and use it to model positive behavior change and personal responsibility. Cultural norms change at a miniscule pace, but film, t.v, radio, and visuals can help move new values and ideals, as well as basic information, out to the general population. One such hero is Juanes, who is a colossal Latin star. He was listed by “Time” magazine as one of the most influential people in the world, and for him to travel with YouthAids promoting the A,B,C’s is very effective in changing behavior. You can see, with these pictures, the progression: We spend time with the disempowered, which reduces stigma, taboo, and shame. We use CRM and pop culture to model and stimulate new behaviors, we use the power of the press to spread awareness, and we take our message to the highest levels with the government. At this session the president of the Guatemala, the HIV/AIDS budget for that country was doubled. It was a very good day at YouthAids! I am sparing you the boring pictures of us parading through various presidential palaces, even though the work we accomplish in them is far from boring.
Now, here is a PSA using regular old kids! This was filmed in Madagascar. In another example of like talking to like, dynamic, charismatic kids already empowered are given the job of reaching out to their peers, with whom information can be shared appropriately and sensitively. In this ad, the kids are indicating they ‘chill,’ meaning they are too young to have sex. This is a strong message for both them, and those who would engage them in sex. 20-48% of South African girls 10-25 report their first sexual encounter was forced, and Cross Generational Sex, the common practice of older men entering into sexual relationships with young women in exchange for small goods, like half a litre of fuel, a meal, or minutes on a cell phone, helps explains why young girls have 6 times the HIV infection rate of boys their same age. Breast ironing is a drastic measure older women resort to…it involves mutilating and flattening with a hot iron a girl’s breasts in order to make her less attractive to the men who would have sex with her. In an effort to protect their daughters from sexual violence, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts often believe they must commit violence against these powerless girls. I would love to go into the widespread practice of female genital mutilation, but there isn’t time…I refer you to Equality Now and am glad to say this issue is getting more coverage in the American press.
Let’s take a quick break from all that, it can be such hard going. We’ll jump from HIV to Malaria for a beat. This program of ours embodies PSI’s success at collaborating with governments. In Kenya and elsewhere, we piggy back onto what the government clinics are already offering. In these photos, we are teaching malaria prevention. The mothers are walked carefully through the process, practicing it themselves, and often singing songs and using rhymes in which the life saving information is embedded and misinformation is debunked. There are chat sessions in which questions and concerns are aired. The atmosphere is very festive. I have enjoyed many a hot afternoon in what to us would be a provisional building at best, or sitting in the shade on a hot day, talking about babies and how to protect them. Women everywhere share the same dream, something better for the children. In the instance of these net, the trick is that when the women get home, they must persuade their husbands to let them, the mothers and children, who are biologically most vulnerable to malaria, to sleep under the insecticide treated net. Men, often believing they have more status, very often keep the nets for themselves, placing the mother and children at severe health risk.
Orphans. One cannot discuss the HIV/AIDS emergency without talking about orphans. Here is where I will share how I myself get very caught up in needing the patriarchy to validate and embolden my own thoughts. The following quote, from Stephen Lewis’ fabulous closing remarks of the recent HIV/AIDS conference, which I urge all of you to read, were EXACTLY my own. But I never quite went as far as his statements d, afraid I didn’t have the credibility or that my thoughts too far out or that I would be dismissed as a fringe radical. Only when a white north American male said it, did I jump up and down and holler, yeah, me too, me too!!!! That’s what I think!!!!!!! In part, Mr Lewis said:
We are walking on the knife’s edge of an unsolvable human catastrophe. The cumulative impact of these orphan kids, their levels of trauma, their overwhelming personal needs, their collective vulnerability strikes at the heart of a massive sociological rearrangement of human relationships. A chilling statistic is only 3 to 5% of all orphans receive any intervention from the state.
As hard as we ngos and fbos work, governments must do more. I urge all of you to call and write your lawmakers to insist the U.S. spend more on orphans and hiv prevention and treatment worldwide. We, the richest country on earth, rank 11th in foreign assistance, behind tiny countries such as Lemburg and Greece. It is shameful and inexcusable. This was a hard day for me. It is UNNATURAL to leave orphans behind. It defies my humanity.
One also cannot talk about orphans without talking about grandmothers. This one, living in a slum with human excrement everywhere, is HIV+ herself and taking care of all the young ones she can.
This picture’s my Wat grannies, Buddhist nuns who with our assistance are assigned to at risk children. Enough said. We all know the power of a grandmother. In this emergency, the continent of Africa is resting on their shoulders.
Many who don’t have grannies end up homeless. These are photos from some of our drop in centers. Kids are given a place to hang, games to play and crafts to learn and they learn important social skills, hygiene, the R’s. Because many of them have already been exploited, medically accurate sex education and information on how to protect themselves, and HIV tests. These are upbeat, safe places, and very, very bittersweet.
We also have drop in centers for teens and they, too, are wonderful places. Empowered teens blow me away with their knowledge and passion. I never have to do anything when I visit these places but give them my love, support, and acceptance. They are on fire for equality and social justice. It is such a relief to see. These drop in centers are like an oasis for me, a place during the hard days on my trips I can hide out for a few beats. Here are some photos of our extraordinary peer educators world wide who have transcended hardship to empower themselves and their peers. They are the future.
Look, I don’t know about y’all, but I am totally worn out. I have covered so much, and there is much left unsaid, for example the importance of being tested, knowing one’s status, and our clinics that help people have a “New Start.” We chose that name because if you are negative, you may have a new start, empowered to stay negative with life saving information and skills, and if you are HIV+, you may have a new start to take charge of your health and information about how to protect your partner. We and other NGO’s do so much world wide, I could teach a whole semester on it! There is a whole heck of a lot I haven’t even mentioned.
I am going to leave you with a few snaps that circle back core reasons for doing this work:
My need and desire to be with the despised, the outcasts, disempowered, exploited and poor, and to do my part in remembering we are all one. They are not “those people,” they are me.
And, lastly, my belief our world needs to be a place where girls are valued just s much as boys are, for only then will there be peace.
And in this work, that is my prayer, above all:
May there be peace.
May there be peace.
May there be peace.
Thank you all so much for being here tonight, for witnessing and listening to my part in this age old dream, and for being, each of you, a part of it with me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I dedicate this talk to all of you, for whom I have enjoyed working so hard to prepare it, and especially I dedicate it to Jeanine, Susan, Chris, Gloria, Robin, and Carol.
Oh yeah. And, go cats!