ABC speaks out on World AIDS Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has released his 2009 World Aids Day video, in which he speaks with the Revd Patricia Sawo, a church leader and mother from Kenya, about her experiences of living with HIV. The video highlights the plight of expectant mothers who are HIV positive and the support they need to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies.

Watch the video below:

Press release and full transcript is here

Religious Dispatches reports here on the role churches are playing. The difference between male dominated pulpits and the prayer circles held by women and how it affects action on AIDS:

More than three decades into the AIDS epidemic, the story of women in KwaZulu-Natal — an impoverished region with one of the highest AIDS rates in the world — is not an easy one. Living under patriarchal cultural and religious traditions makes women especially vulnerable to the disease, and they continue to suffer much higher rates of HIV infection than men. Encouragement of male promiscuity, the high incidence of rape, and the myth that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS are just some of the factors why it can be difficult for women to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, in the Christian churches that dominate life in the region, women are taught to subjugate themselves to male power; frank talk of sexuality, especially that of women, is frowned upon.

While Anglican, Catholic, Protestant and other “mainline churches” operate important HIV/AIDS programs nationally, such as that run by Hope Africa, which grew out of the social justice work of Haddad and other Anglicans in the 1980s, the role of churches, especially the smaller “indigenous churches,” in the day to day ground battle against AIDS is mixed at best.

Here women face the brunt of what Haddad calls “a deeply patriarchal culture,” and the churches — the dominant institution in daily life in rural areas — do little to combat this.

While the message delivered from the pulpits is often one of retribution and contributes to the “stigmatization and discrimination” of HIV-positive women, inside the powerful manyanos, or women’s prayer unions, it is often more enlightened. In her decade of AIDS work in the region, Haddad hasn’t seen much improvement in the systemic problems at the root of the AIDS crisis — the poverty and gender violence — but “the change in awareness is phenomenal.” This is especially true for women, more of whom understand that “people really are dying of AIDS related illnesses” and aren’t “bewitched or something.”

In some instances, the manyanos are emerging as safe sites for discussion of taboo subjects such as HIV/AIDS and sexuality using the Bible as the point of departure. For example, Haddad reports that in one group, reflection on the passage on the rape of Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-22) spurred a conversation among the women about the issue of rape in their communities.

The manyanos, as well as the growing network of health clinics, which women attend in much greater numbers than men, has contributed to a gender gap in HIV/AIDS knowledge that Haddad says must be addressed by the church and in public education campaigns.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks out on anti-gay legislation:

Many HIV/AIDS activists felt that Goosby’s comments signaled a certain tone-deafness by the Obama administration to the Ugandan issue. But one person who consults regularly with the Department of State said the agency has been heavily engaged with Ugandan officials regarding the fate of the legislation.

Past Posts