Why Have a ‘Positive Women’ Campaign for HIV?
In the news yesterday was a video of Carolyn Brooker ‘explaining’ why she is supporting a campaign called ‘Positive Women’ after losing her daughter to AIDS. From the Positive Women campaign: “We aim to provide a support network for women and families living with HIV or AIDS”. A 2010 review of services supporting those with HIV quoted Positive Women also describing their mission as being “to identify ways to empower women to go forward’.
Ms Brooker complained that her daughter was sick in hospital for a long time but not tested for HIV until it was too late to save or extend her life through retroviral medications. Our compassion goes out to Ms Brooker for the terrible experience of losing her daughter in the recognition that her life could have been saved through a simple test done earlier.
So Ms Brooker and others are calling for routine HIV testing of everyone admitted to hospital, not just those seen to be from ‘at risk’ groups. They are entitled to their opinion and preference, but why lobby from a platform that is gender-specific and gender-discriminatory? In the carefully choreographed NZ Herald video Ms Brooker said that ‘we’ (presumably her family) were supporting the Positive Women campaign because they wanted ‘change’ (i.e. routine HIV testing) and “the best way to get change is to do it from the inside”. The logical links are missing in this explanation. ‘Positive Women’ appears to be a community group and can hardly be seen to be ‘the inside’ when it comes to health policy making. Perhaps Ms Brooker had given a more rational explanation that was distorted by the NZ Herald’s video producer. Missing also from Ms Brooker’s speech were relevant details such as the cause of her daughter’s HIV (i.e. perhaps she would have been tested earlier if she had disclosed risk factors), the cost of HIV testing and extending this to all hospital admissions, and the reliability and risks of such screening.
Are females with HIV so special or different from males that they need their own femicentric support group? How would the feminists respond to the establishment of an HIV group that exclusively served males? Although there are groups that do annual surveys of male homosexual behaviour (an important issue regarding the spread of HIV), and there are homosexual HIV support groups, there are no male-exclusive groups as far as we could find.
The question is not simply one of gender discrimination. Each new group created around any particular cause will tend to splinter efforts towards that cause. ‘Positive Women’ is sponsored by a considerable list of organisations including the Ministry of Health (it has long been fashionable to throw money at women’s causes while men’s groups mainly receive scorn). ‘Positive Women’ rents office space and employs a full time national coordinator, a social worker and a health promoter/administrative assistant (all female of course, and one wonders to what extent this and other women’s organisations are honouring employment law banning gender discrimination as demanded by feminists). The most recent financial records published on their web site for the year ending March 2012 showed that year’s income nearly all from donations amounted to almost half a million dollars. If ‘Positive Women’ were a division of a more general HIV support organisation, that money would probably be used more efficiently and effectively for providing services to sufferers and for lobbying decision-makers.
Supporting a gender-biased feminist group hardly seems necessary to lobby for HIV screening in hospitals, but somehow sexism always seems justified to feminists when it suits them.