In the last issue of the newsletter, we had two articles about the Women's Conference held in Hawaii. One of the speakers, Suki Terada Ports, gave a stirring keynote address, which was really a call to action for all women. As much as we'd like to publish the entire speech, it was an hour long, so we've decided to print most of the last part. We hope you find it as inspiring as we do.
"Women must be able to determine policy about their bodies, their children and their family future and while this may sound too ideal, it is no more to work for this than it is to improve the lot for all women, for whom we have allowed the glass ceiling to remain unshattered for too long.
HIV infected women, because so many are disproportionately of color, have suffered the effects of sexism, classicism and racism in a concentrated dose as they become affected by HIV. Unless women are included at every level of decision making, not just those with the higher education but representing every class and health status, we will never overcome a virtual class and caste system of women, sometimes driven by women who are themselves driven to "out pants" the men.
Color must be a conscious factor. To say one is color blind is unacceptable. Language must be included as a factor. To say English first, America first, is inappropriate when it comes to specific HIV prevention information. Language is critical in understanding prescription dosage, when some people take upwards of 5 or 10 "meds" in a day, for example.
Help with mental health is a crisis issue. Women need services on the same basis utilized and accessible to gay men but which are not available to low income women, who did not have it available, or if it was, it was not appropriate, language or culturewise.
Comprehensive and primary care must be available. Hawaii, you may be in the catbird seat with a state health care plan, cracks or not, but nothing best be taken for granted.
We have a major task ahead. It will mean truly enabling women to be partners in determining their own fate and life opportunities. It will mean that men, used to calling the shots, will have to move over and make room - not a likely happening without a fight. But do we really have the time or resources to be divided in a gender skirmish when the real enemy, HIV, keeps moving along to increase the cases in women? Women will have to begin changing traditional roles - that is not an easy order for most women of color. It will mean increased demands upon the women to get involved, but we cannot expect or wait for gay white men or their gay brothers of color, to willingly give over their hard fought for turf - they've let us know by two years ago trying to take over the administration of funds for women by saying the women are disorganized and that the major aids organizations had the infrastructure and knowledge and experience in place.
WOMEN...we have to begin to work together better - that is to drop the battle lines and change what have become patterns too quickly in this epidemic - white women leading women of color - lesbians leading heterosexuals, transgendered being ignored, women with children pitted against each other - children supposedly being innocent- the mothers guilty - we've let these become the de facto policy initiatives at the time when Congress is about to draw a compromise. For the most part white men, though some misguided leaders of color are included - just don't get it!
Mandatory testing of babies at birth is not the answer. Yet unless each woman here gets her Mother, Sisters, Aunties and Grandparents to register to vote, if they're not, and to vote based upon who votes for our rights to determine policy, that is partnership and equity for women. Voting is a critical issue when at this very minute, dollars are being denied for our care - as well as the gaging of nonprofit organizations is in committee. If you get $1 of Federal dollars you cannot spend more than 5% on any kind of education, that is phone calls to legislators or any other means of affecting legislation including suing and class action suits.
So women - and I do know in this audience are the good guys, men who will also take up a pen and write, pick up a phone and call...we must now, not tomorrow, write local papers to cover women's issues, get school boards to vote better, more teen friendly HIV prevention and provide comprehensive physical and mental health for adolescents as well as women.
Men - you have for the most part made the policy and also infected the women. Without the change in policy prior to aids, women were responsible for family planning and protecting themselves, some suffering abuse, domestic violence, battering and child abuse including incest, alcoholism - or other substance abuse funds in all of these areas could be cut by "Block Grant" priority setting by someone who does not include these as priority issues. We cannot allow elected officials to make into laws those laws which will gag us, disempower the small victories in getting HIV prevention funds and PHS and NIH funds for care and research. If general medicaid and medicare funds are cut so drastically it can have but only disastrous effects upon all of the poor but especially HIV affected care. If HUD's HOPWA funds are cut, how can the states and cities provide the housing so badly needed - and the list goes on - but just as the cases of women are climbing, these draconian measures are coming
down, both in cuts in dollars & the right to speak up.
We cannot let women's rights be compromised by men voting to have women mandatorily tested! If we, in America do not challenge our own words in the Constitution, and each of its meaningful protective amendments to protect all of the inalienable rights as truth - implementing democracy - we shall see other nations, some of which do not espouse democracy and have a 50-50 ratio of women with aids surpass us in dealing with the issues of women's right to be informed so that she can make her own choice.
We know so little about what is really happening with women and HIV, with women with children with HIV, because in America we, as women, with the exception of Native Americans with whom we all so generously shared measles, other disease, their land, actually everything except being equal partners, as you know well in Hawaii what happened - we have accepted with little UNITED - and that is the key - united action the policies which now, are literally allowing us to be disproportionately affected by this disease. We must not only battle all of societies ills and inequities - the sexism, the classicism and the racism, but we must with an urgency as at no time before - fight to protect our lives from the effects of HIV. We cannot, in the name of budget balancing allow more women to be denied funds, access to information & also be gagged in the attempts to unite, organize and win the rights too long denied. So - get angry - but inform your anger.
White women and men - now is not the time to get an attitude and feel unloved, unappreciated and picked on - so get over it! And look at your positions of privilege and I don't mean individually - don't take this personally! Form a truly working relationship of sharing with women of color. Women of color- begin to look at women of color who are truly helping or not and get together, organize and you must make yourselves heard. It won't be easy to bring along the uninformed - it won't be easy to fight your own language, culture and historic traditions - some being accepted for hundreds of years - be selective - look behind and in front of you but LOOK. If it's hard now, make a choice of having no choice and being gagged to even try to change it. We are talking of behavior change of all of us - and divide and conquer we must understand but accept no longer as an acceptable mode of behavior, working together under new guidelines, we must work to achieve partner and women must be a partner
in drawing up policies.
Women of all colors working together - not white over the others, but truly with each other, and it will be hard but it is now or never, because we're talking about our lives - the lives of our children and our grandchildren.
We must insist upon access to primary care for ourselves and our children that is coordinated and more of the one stop shopping that we had dreamed of for Iris House in New York City and we must enable women to participate in those decisions which will affect their lives, the future of their children and the future rich diversity of America. MAHALO."