Last week I had coffee with a successful business woman who asked me with a raised eyebrow, "Why would you have World Pulse focus on global AIDS when there are so many other people already working on it?" At a time when it sometimes seems like Bono and Bill Clinton have got it covered, it wasn't the first time I had been asked this question.
Here's why. Women are at the center of the pandemic, and they are the key to the solutions. This is our issue and it is our time to seize the opportunity for urgent global leadership. In every country in the world infection rates in women and girls are rising, including in the US. The burning edge of this wildfire is violence against women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is galloping so fast through women's bodies (3 out of 4 new infections are in young women), that the new UN Special Envoy on AIDS, Elizabeth N. Mataka this week decried that, "we are rapidly moving towards an Africa without women."
Yet, when I see what women on the frontlines of the pandemic are creating, I feel anything but numb.
I have smoothed the skirts of dolls sewn by HIV+ women survivors of the Rwandan genocide and felt the love and hope in every stitch.
I have spoken with women who know they are dying, but are somehow still holding their families together. I have seen their determination to live, the power of their potential, even when their villages are collapsing around them. Daily, stories cross my desk of HIV+ women rising up as innovative leaders: establishing women's trusts for the education of girl orphans; cultivating organic gardens to provide nourishment alongside anti-retroviral medication; building revolving loan funds to support healing resource centers; and bootstrapping income-generating projects for widows and their families.
These leaders are spreading a new kind of contagion—of community empowerment and fierce possibility. Today these mini-epidemics of hope are still small. Tragically, they are also largely isolated, invisible, under-resourced and under siege. For them, there are no major global campaigns for big checks or screaming firetrucks to protect from the blaze of violence.
But we have the power to connect and rewrite the future for women and their communities. With dramatically increased attention, connection, resources, information and love—the dreams of HIV-affected women have the potential to become a massive force, breathing new life into the continent of Africa and elsewhere.
It's an exciting vision we can't turn away from. At World Pulse, we're making AIDS solutions a priority. You'll continue to taste it in our coverage, and soon, you'll meet grassroots HIV/AIDS leaders yourself on our new social networking site PulseWire.net. On PulseWire these heroines can tell us exactly what they need to advance their work in their own words.
Transforming AIDS is a revolution that we don't want you to miss out on. I tried to convey to the businesswoman in the coffee shop what it might feel like for her to be with 1,500 women coming together at the recent 2007 Women and HIV Summit in Kenya—the ululating African whoops, the bellowing urgent calls to action, the knockout fashions, the heart-wrenching and hopeful testimonies, and the resounding shoulder to shoulder sense of, "we can do this!" I invited her to experience for herself and come to the 2008 Mexico City International HIV/AIDS conference in August. I told her I could see her dancing.
Join Us. Adelante!