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Exhibit Spotlights Women and HIV/AIDS
November 5, 2007

Three Calvin organizations are teaming up to host a walk-through photo exhibition that spotlights the gender inequity inherent in global HIV/ AIDS.

The student-run International Health and Development (IHD) organization, the Sexuality Series from Student Life and the Gender Studies minor are co-sponsoring “Giving Women Power Over AIDS” from Tuesday through Friday, November 13–16 in the library lobby. The opening reception for the event, held 7 p.m., Tuesday, November 13 in the Meeter Center lecture hall, will feature a talk by Calvin political science professor Simona Goi.

“Giving Women Power Over AIDS” is a series of 10 two-sided panels, each measuring six feet high by three feet wide. Visitors view first one side of the exhibition, which tells the story of one woman’s battle with HIV/AIDS, then the other, which focuses on prevention of the disease. The exhibition, combining artistry with advocacy, shows that a disproportionate share of the HIV/AIDS epidemic falls upon women—and women who are powerless to protect themselves.

“Sixty percent of HIV/ AIDS infections are now women,” said sophomore Michelle Fraser, an IHD co-chair and one of the event organizers. “In fact, one of the big risk factors for contracting HIV is to be a monogamous, married woman in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Giving Women Power Over AIDS” tells the story of Ruth, and her daughter, Martha. Ruth, a Zimbabwean woman, contracted HIV from her husband and died, leaving  Ruth—one of 11 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa—in the care of her grandmother.

Ruth’s story is powerful because it is representative of so many stories, said Fraser.

“Women in these cultures aren’t empowered to have control over their sexual activity, and they are easily exploited by men, either strangers or their husbands,” she said, adding that this powerlessness even extends to the use of birth control: “The exhibit draws attention to the issue of condoms, which are effective when used properly,” said Fraser. “But men need to consent to the use of condoms, and in situations where women cannot control condom use with a male partner, they’re at risk.”

The panels opposite to Ruth’s story give an overview of preventative strategies against HIV/AIDS, focusing particularly on research into microbicides: gels, creams, suppositories, films and other products that would prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Because these products (many of which are currently in the testing stages for use against the disease) would be used by women, they could drastically reduce the numbers of female victims of the disease.

“The exhibit was designed to increase awareness about the potential of microbicides and  to develop the political will for them to be developed,” said Fraser. “Right now, the development of microbicides is being done almost exclusively by private firms without public funding.”

“Giving Women Power Over AIDS” was created by the Global Campaign for Microbicides, a broad-based, international effort to build support among policymakers, opinion leaders, and the general public for increased investment into microbicides and other user-controlled prevention methods. The exhibition is based on “In Her Mother’s Shoes,” a 2002 Seattle Times photo essay through which reporter Paula Bock and photographer Betty Udesen originally told the story of Ruth and Martha.

Fraser, who learned of the gender issues surrounding AIDS when she traveled throughout east Africa between high school and college, hopes to draw good attendance to “Giving Women Power Over AIDS”:

“Even in the states, you see, when families are ill, it’s often the mother figure who cares for them. This is true in those cultures as well with the added strain that it’s often the women and mothers that are getting ill themselves,” Fraser said. “So, the burden of caring for a family that is impoverished and sick in more ways than HIV—that burden is falling on the woman, who is herself ill in many cases.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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