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Category: Girls, Health, International

HIV/AIDS: Raising a Clamor in Vienna

| August 3, 2010

Already an award winning writer, our 14-year-old correspondent at the international HIV/AIDS conference, July 18 to 23, tells and shows us why it was important for her to be among the youth delegates struggling to have their voices heard.

Every two years people come from all over the world to the international HIV/AIDS conference to fight against the disease. This year 25,000 people attended the event last month in Vienna. And 25,000 is a lot of people! Three hundred were young people like me, from 35 countries.

The hallways of the convention center crawled with participants fighting for attention for their groups and their causes. There was barely any quiet—somebody was always shouting or protesting or announcing something.

That’s what needs to happen. The AIDS movement’s slogan used to be silence = death, and that’s still true. Women, especially, need to be heard and seen. Around the world, 33 million people are HIV positive and almost half are women. In Africa, where the epidemic is the worst, two-thirds are women. Women are contracting AIDS all over the world, including in our country, where more and more are getting infected every day.

Just from these statistics you can see that women need to have a voice in the fight against HIV/AIDS. At the conference, many times women struggled to be heard, especially girls and young women. Though organizers tried to make sure women were represented, a lot of times the attendees and the media were more interested in men like the Bills (Gates and Clinton) than women and girls who were telling their stories and talking about their issues.

Even among women, young women sometimes got lost in the shuffle. Almost half of all the new HIV infections in the world are among people under 25. An estimated 7,400 people become infected with HIV every day, about half of them young. Young people, especially girls and women, are the age group most vulnerable to HIV due to lack of information and education, societal pressure and the inability to access health care services.

Many of the younger attendees were too shy to speak up. Other times we got drowned out. On Sunday July 19th, I attended a panel about intergenerational conversations between women. It was supposed to be about bridging the gap between the generations, but the speakers on the panel were all over the age of 30, and most were much older. The panelists wanted to find ways to get young women to speak up. But, as I sat there listening, I was thinking that the panel members should just ask the audience—mostly young women—instead of making their own assumptions. If they want us to lead, they need to give us a chance.

In the midst of all the chatter, people and groups got very creative in order to get the word out about the work and causes. Being original was the way to get noticed. This was how women were able to get seen, especially when their voices were not heard. I took a lot of pictures to help capture some of the most creative campaigns and ideas.  One very creative campaign was conducted by the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). Not only did this organization hold seminars to help young women have a voice on issues, but members also  wore bright pink scarves, so they were always recognizable. Overall the conference was very educating and a wonderful experience.

I am looking forward to seeing how far we have progressed on the issue of HIV/AIDS when the conference is held in Washington DC in summer 2012—and capture all the exciting original ways that people are fight this disease. 

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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