I'm young/old enough to remember the terrifying advertising campaigns surrounding AIDS in the 80s, and the deadly seriousness with which the disease was approached. I remember at the age of 5, seeing a small pool of blood on the floor at the local swimming baths and as I approached it with interest as 5 year-olds are wont to do, my mum firmly instructing me NEVER to touch blood because that's how AIDS was carried, and AIDS KILLED you. That was pretty much all the warning I needed. I also remember 13 years later, at uni with all manner of smart, switched-on, brilliant young women, and one of my close friends asking, in all seriousness, "AIDS can be cured though, can't it?". I was stunned. Surely everyone knew AIDS was a killer, and that there was no known cure? Apparently not. That was my first warning that there had been a serious lapse in young women's awareness of HIV/AIDS.
I've often found it disturbing the way modern awareness campaigns about STDs don't even seem to mention HIV/AIDS any more, sending out the message that the most serious infection you're at risk of from unprotected sex is chlamydia. Risking infertility is certainly serious enough to warn young men and women about, but what about that other pesky disease that might, y'know, actually, uh, kill you? Someone suggested to me recently that because HIV/AIDs is so much more manageable thanks to AZT and drug cocktails, and people can happily live for 20 years plus following infection, it seems like scaremongering to still call it 'a killer'. I understood her point, but I think anyone who sees that as equalling 'a cure' for AIDS is still seriously fooling themselves. Yes, we can 'manage' the disease. But no, we can't cure it, and yes, it will still get you at some point - the treatments may be effective, but they are still just a stall. And yet, out of all the sexually active girls I know, including myself, less than half of us have ever been for a full sexual health check including an AIDS test. I'm glad to say I'm one of them, but it disturbs me that so many of my friends are so cavalier about their sexual health.
"Women’s vulnerability to HIV in sub-Saharan Africa stems not only from their greater physiological susceptibility to heterosexual transmission, but also to the severe social, legal and economic disadvantages they often confront. A recent comprehensive epidemiological review undertaken in connection with the modes of transmission study in Lesotho found that sexual and physical violence is a key determinant of the country’s severe HIV epidemic. According to a recent survey, 47% of men and 40% of women in Lesotho say women have no right to refuse sex with their husbands or boyfriends."*
By pretending HIV/AIDs is no longer a problem, either for ourselves or the rest of the world, modern feminists are guilty of standing by while a destructive fire rages. It's time we got educated and got active again - if people could manage it in the 80s, with a recession, right-wing mania, and seriously bad hair to contend with, we can certainly do it again now.
*(Source: UNAIDS/WHO 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update)