“Women it all their diversity” seems to be a sort of mantra that I’ve been hearing at several meetings around ICASA, among others at the Women’s Networking Zone in the community village. The Women’s Zone is a space where NOS and activists are addressing issues of gender in relations the context of the HIV epidemics in Africa during the conference; the zone’s program is heavily based inhumanrights in terms of gender, something which is not present to the extent that is needed in the man programme. Taking the phrase “women in all their diversity” to heart, it is addressing not only calender women and positive women, but takes time to explore the issues of sex work and transgender, two issues so oftenleft out if mainstream gender discourse.
It is important to get over the divide that is created by “key populations” language, often enforcing categories, at the expense of ensuring that programming in terms of HIV takes into account the intersections and the diversity within and around most at risk populations. Gender as a basis to organise from in terms of responding to violence, stigma, and discrimination is extremely important, as it is women globally that bear the brunt if then HIV pandemic. However, it is also important to ask ourselves who these women are, and to understand that it is not exclusive in any way; transgender women, women sex workers, migrant women, women living with HIV, women from indigenous populations, all are facing gender based violence; they are not only facing this because they are women, they are also facing gender based violence beyond just being “women”.
In order to understand what fuels HIV vulnerability it is necessary to stop thinking about gender simply as man/woman and male/female; gender must be understood broader, as a system of power, which negatively impacts not just women, but women who do not conform to established gender norms. In this understanding, issues of transgender identity, sexual orientation, being differently-abled, being positive, is extremely important.
Prof. Sheila Tlou opened the Women’s Networking Zone yesterdays, speaking to the need to include all women, and the need to , over forward in terms of gender.