August 8, 2008
I'm Glynis Alonzo-Beaton from Guyana. I'm Executive Director and General Secretary of the YWCA in Guyana.
What were some of the highlights of the International AIDS conference for you?
I'm looking for that now. Whoo! Oh, my God. Are you serious? I can't find one highlight.
OK. So you know what? We'll ask that question again later. Do you think we're going to end homophobia any time soon?
Not in the Caribbean.
Why do you think the Caribbean is so difficult about this issue?
Because of our upbringing, our morals, our Christianity, Bible-trained conscience. No one's going to easily part with our tradition. But I think they [gay people] have their life to live; I have mine. If you're going to impinge on their life, then I see a problem. If they're going to get into my space as a woman, then I have a problem.
Is it legal to be a homosexual in Guyana?
No, it's not.
So you can go to jail for being gay, however you define that?
Yes. No, not in public. You can go to jail for anal sex.
So being a lesbian is legal?
Neither. But it's more a covered issue, to think about it. The lesbians are more indoors. The gays would like to be up front and in your face.
So it's difficult. Do you think we're winning the fight against HIV?
What do you think some of the biggest problems still are?
The biggest driver of HIV is the little bit investment in women and girls. They need to put far more investment in women and girls, and stop domestic violence.
We have one woman in every three dying in Guyana because of domestic violence. And you have to stop stigma and discrimination. We have to start treating HIV and AIDS as a disease or a virus ... not as a killer.
Who do you think are the most infected in Guyana?
Women. Women and young girls. So investment needs to be directed there.
Is there HIV treatment, ARVs, in Guyana now, for everybody who is infected?
Not for everybody.
Who gets HIV meds and who doesn't?
I guess if you manage to know the people who have it, you get it.
Thus if you are in a rural area and you're poor...
No. Out of the question. Out of the question. Because some of our areas, you have to either get by plane or by a day traveling -- boats and this kind of thing.
So there are few roads and cars, and no public transportation in those areas.
Limited, very limited. Because our country's pretty big. And you have people living in some real dense places, but not everybody. And there is this silence. I think if women come out in Guyana, like how women came out here, it might help. But the stigma is high.
Is there nobody In Guyana that is public about being HIV positive? Have there been no role models in Guyana?
I'm wondering if I saw any. I haven't really seen women stand up. Some, I know personally, but would like to keep it discreet. Back to your question: the highlights. The exhibition for me was very much informative, some of the booths. I was able to go and learn a lot more from some of the workshop sessions.
I think one thing that surprised me, coming out of that kind of culture, was the emphasis on MSM [men who have sex with men] here. I'm still lost with that. Women's issues need to be more on the table, other than that. Because HIV is a woman's face. She has to take care of it. She is the one that gets it. But I was pretty much surprised at it.
What surprised you in particular?
Well, let's say, because of my culture, to see so much of them here. I need to be fair. It affects them a lot. And if we women haven't really pushed to get our agenda on the table, then we suffer.
What about HIV testing? How prevalent is it for people to be able to get tested for HIV? Do most people have access to testing?
You can go and test. You can go and test somewhere, pay at some... You can go openly. But people don't go and test because of the stigma and discrimination - and the limited confidentiality.
What's the source of the stigma, do you think? For women, what is the feeling people have? If you have HIV, then you are... Could you finish that sentence?
Dead. You're dead. By the time the women hear it, they're waiting at the funeral parlor, just to be buried.
But what do people think? Do they think that they are doing something bad, that that's why they got HIV?
Yes. You see, because HIV is linked to sex, and we totally misunderstand sex. Thank God for sex, I'm here. That's a problem. We need to really look at the word sex before we start stigmatizing sex with HIV. HIV, yes, comes from that. But sex is a good thing. The Bible says that. And it's good for reproduction.
What's the primary risk factor for women who get infected?
Domestic violence, poverty. The two of them, almost together now.
Are they in long-term partnerships when they get infected? Or current relationships?
Most of them have more partners. They eventually go and get more.
Is that an economic necessity to survive in Guyana?
As a woman?
Are most women uneducated and not able to get good jobs to pay for supporting their children and their house?
Yes, because of the single parent thing. So you end up having six, eight, nine, ten sharing.
How prevalent is marriage? Do men stick around and pay for the kids?
No, no, no. They don't stick around. They don't stick around. They go their way. Men usually go their way. That's why I wanted to know, why so much men you see on the agenda, other than women? Because we women are left with everything. But I suppose we have to fight more for our issues on the agenda.
Thank you very much.
You're most welcome.