Red - - Red Man -

I’m so proud to be stand­ing with my arms around the woman in this photo. She was one of a group of women I’d vis­ited in Uganda in 2005. Although I don’t re­mem­ber her name, I know her, and I know her cir­cum­stances. She rep­re­sents bil­lions of women across the planet – women who live in to­tal poverty; women with no ac­cess to rights or re­sources. These are the women we all need to be more aware of. I had flown to the cap­i­tal city, Kam­pala, with Comic Re­lief to visit the head­quar­ters of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Women Liv­ing with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA) – of which this beau­ti­ful woman was a mem­ber. Meet­ing her was hum­bling. It was one of the many op­por­tu­ni­ties I’ve had to wit­ness how women in the most dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, of­ten os­tracised by their own com­mu­ni­ties, can join to­gether in sup­port­ive groups, to help each other stay alive and healthy. I also wit­nessed how HIV/AIDS can rav­age peo­ple’s lives, tak­ing them down in the harsh­est of ways. If you have a lit­tle bit of pas­sion for hu­man rights, the ex­pe­ri­ence of di­rectly meet­ing women who are af­fected by AIDS strength­ens your re­solve to be­come in­volved in try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence.

Be­ing a women’s rights ac­tivist feels like a true vo­ca­tion for me. My first baby was still­born, and I think this was such an over­whelm­ing per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that it gave me a more pro­found in­sight into how much women have to go through in so many stages of their lives. And although any tragic ex­pe­ri­ence is per­sonal to you, it can also connect you to a much larger univer­sal pic­ture.

My fo­cus on HIV/AIDS re­ally be­gan in 2003 when I was in­vited to per­form at the launch of Nel­son Man­dela’s AIDS cam­paign 46664. Hear­ing Mr Man­dela de­scribe HIV/AIDS as a geno­cide that was tak­ing place in South Africa, with women and chil­dren at the face of the epi­demic, had a marked ef­fect on me as a woman and a mother. Women are the moth­ers of the world; women bring all hu­man life into the world and, as some­one who’s had that ex­pe­ri­ence, I strongly iden­tify with the idea of some­thing go­ing wrong. If you’re

HIV pos­i­tive and ex­pect­ing a baby but have no ac­cess to treat­ment, it must be over­whelm­ing. If I think back on all the chap­ters of my life, there are so many things that I’ve been through as a woman. Moth­er­hood changes ev­ery­thing. It gives you an un­con­di­tional per­spec­tive, a dif­fer­ent kind of love to the one you’ve been pur­su­ing through­out your life. That’s one of the rea­sons I work with moth­er­s2­moth­ers (m2m), a char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing to help women with HIV de­liver ba­bies who are born free of the virus. It does ex­tra­or­di­nary, life-sav­ing work.

The world is full of de­spair, but as an ac­tivist you are al­ways look­ing for so­lu­tions. Us­ing in­ter­per­sonal skills and re­sources, each in­di­vid­ual one of us can be a con­tribut­ing agent for change in the world.

‘Although any tragic ex­pe­ri­ence is per­sonal to you, it can also connect you to a much larger univer­sal pic­ture’

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