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3 A Support Group for HIV-Positive Women in Cape Town

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

The First Cases of HIV were identified in South Africa in the early 1980s. The numbers affected by the epidemic grew fairly slowly in the 1980s and early 1990s but exploded in the late 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century. At first the government was unprepared to deal with the problem. Then in 1998, AZT (azidothymidine), an antiretroviral drug especially useful for inhibiting mother-to-child infection, became available to those who could afford to buy the medicine. Initial distribution of AZT faltered when the South African government decided it was too expensive, and the health minister said the state’s primary focus would be on prevention rather than treatment. The government continued to drag its feet in making the drug available, claiming it was concerned about the efficacy and potential dangers of antiretroviral medicines. As recently as 2005, government officials continued to issue controversial and scientifically unsubstantiated justifications for not providing ARVs to HIV-positive people in South Africa. Some HIV activists in South Africa, as well as people in government, were vocal about their skepticism regarding the efficacy and safety of ARVs. A few went so far as to question whether the new drugs were yet another deadly experiment the West was conducting in Africa. This view, however, is unquestionably a minority one, although it has been articulated by some of the most powerful people in the country. Former South African health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, for example, endorsed foods such as garlic, beetroot, and lemon juice as valid alternatives to ARVs for the treatment of HIV. She argued her position in national discussions and before the world in a speech at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 (Lewis, 2006), but her speeches were immediately condemned around the globe, most vehemently from within South Africa. More recently, skepticism about ARVs has waned as people in countries who previously did not have access to them are finally able to use at least some of the medicines and see the real and positive effects of the drugs.

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9 Women’s Bodies

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

Throughout history, ideas about the nature of women’s bodies have played a dramatic role in either challenging or reinforcing power relationships between women and men. As such, we can regard these ideas as political tools and can regard the struggle over these ideas as a political struggle.

Rose Weitz, The Politics of Women’s Bodies

Clashes over what women’s bodies should do and what they should look like continue. Despite strides forward in women’s rights on many fronts, bodies remain a persistent battleground. Some feminists even argue that as the feminist movement has grown, we are moving backward on issues related to women’s bodies, asserting that a backlash has developed that seeks to reinforce ever more policing and regulation, including increasingly restrictive ideas and actions determined to keep women’s bodies and women in “their place” (Faludi, 2006). Today this backlash takes many forms, “including 1) increasing pressure on women to control the shape of their bodies; 2) attempts to define premenstrual and post-menopausal women as ill, and; 3) the rise of the anti-abortion and ‘fetal rights’ movements” (Weitz, 2010, p. 9).

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1 Women Living with HIV

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

This Book is about women living on the margins. Already pushed to the edges by systems of inequality and oppression through global politics, social class, racism, and gender injustice, they are forced even further from the center by their HIV-positive status. This book is also about women who have devised strategies to bring themselves back to “normal” and to challenge what is considered normal. The women whose voices we hear in the text are living with HIV in Cape Town, South Africa, an area hard hit by the HIV pandemic. By listening to their stories we are made aware of new ways to think about HIV, and, most importantly, we learn lessons that are essential for understanding HIV and determining effective routes to its demise.

At the February 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, research fellow Dr. Brian Williams, of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis in Cape Town, announced that if we could aggressively distribute antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) to everyone who is HIV positive, we could stop the virus from spreading and eventually eliminate it from the globe. ARVs reduce the viral load, the amount of HIV detectable in blood, so dramatically that those who are HIV positive become nearly noninfectious (BBC, 2010). This is a bold and apparently valid idea, but it is a goal that cannot be met if we do not take into consideration the social and political character of the human community, perhaps especially the factor of gender injustice.

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8 Care Work and Violent Men

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

Chapter 7 Described the problems with care work that women do, especially for their children, but problems also exist in the care work they do for the men in their lives. Ironically, the discussion of care work for men in our interviews with the women was mostly talk about men within a context of abuse. The women are caring for men partners, despite their own HIV-related problems and, even more surprisingly, despite the abuse inflicted upon them by the men for whom they are caring. Women drew on discourses of femininity in describing how men need their care, even in abusive situations. Some of the women acknowledged that being a “proper wife,” which includes caring for men’s sexual needs, has taken a toll on their physical health, yet they continue not only to live with their male partners but also to take care of them. The following excerpts illustrate the women’s struggles to take care of men, many times in the midst of an abusive relationship.

Shareen’s trouble started when she got married, two years before we interviewed her. A short time into the marriage she found out about her husband’s positive HIV status when she visited him in the hospital. She had taken the liberty of reading his medical chart at the foot of his bed, which listed him as being HIV positive. Once she learned that he had tested positive, she believed it was necessary to have herself tested for the virus. She explained to us how painful it was to get tested secretly and alone while he was in the hospital.

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5 Disclosure for Better or Worse

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

For those who are HIV positive, disclosure is an essential step. If nothing else, they must at least disclose their status to health-care providers in order to obtain care and medicine. Disclosure also contributes to a person’s ability to take care of themselves and to plan ahead for their care and treatment. However, disclosure is not easy. Telling others that one is HIV positive is always difficult and sometimes impossible. The stigma associated with the virus creates a monumental problem. Not surprisingly, in our interviews with HIV-positive women, a significant discourse emerged around the issue of disclosure.

The decision to disclose one’s HIV status and the process of then doing so are constant worries for the women we interviewed, and their conversations with us revealed their dilemmas and decisions regarding disclosure in myriad ways. Three main areas seemed most salient: (1) disclosing at work and the favorable and unfavorable consequences of doing so; (2) disclosing to children and mothers of the women, particularly the issue of fearing their reactions; and (3) disclosing to acquaintances who are not well known or even complete strangers as a way of seeking acknowledgment for being a survivor and activist and as a way of following the advice of medical and psychological authorities.

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