BY BAKITA KASADHA
Bakita is an activist and consultant in the HIV sector and the European representative on Y+ Board (the youth arm of the Global Network of People Living with HIV).
Outside of the HIV sector, Bakita is a personal development trainer and poet – performing under the name BakitaKK. She is currently studying a masters in anthropology and community development.
I am not shy in making it known that I don’t think the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target is enough. Under this target the depression that might be triggered by ARTs or the self-stigma preventing a person with HIV believing they are deserving of a loving respectful relationship is not factored in. Under the current target diagnosed and undetectable is enough.
I would like us to move towards a target that includes quality of life. We need to think beyond pills and viral loads and towards re-humanising people living with HIV.
HIV is a health inequality and it is no surprise that certain groups are more likely to be impacted than others. These groups are also more likely to face at least one ‘ism’, ‘isms’ that limit our humanity and dehumanise us.
Equally, people living with HIV, researchers, those who lead peer-led support and charities in the sector do not exist in a vacuum. We are exposed to the same messages, systems and structures; unless we’re vigilant and make a conscious effort we run the risk of continuing to reflect the same discrimination in our advocacy.
Sometimes in our equality efforts and campaigns, we run the risk of fighting to have the same powers as those groups we consider oppressive, rather than challenging or changing the power structures. When our campaigns turn into something like that, they only end up serving those who look like us and experience life in a similar way that we do.
So if your advocacy dismisses the experiences of HIV positive people who were born in the 90s and noughties because they don’t seem as painful as the experiences as those who were adults in the 80s and 90s…
If your HIV advocacy involves young people, migrants and trans people only in conversations about their experiences as being young, migrants and trans people…
- If your HIV advocacy ignores the unique journey of being born and growing up with HIV…
- If your HIV advocacy leaves BAME women as an afterthought in research, representation and prevention…
- If your HIV advocacy mutes the realities of AIDS-defining illnesses, because they’re not an ‘issue’ in your country…
- If your HIV advocacy excludes HIV positive people who are detectable from discussions about safe and pleasurable sex…
Then I’m afraid there are a growing number of people who are just not going to put up with it. None of us should.
What may be referred to as “in-fighting” in activism, I would argue (instead) is a growing number of groups gaining a better understanding of how they are discriminated against structurally and seeing that reflected in our advocacy.
It’s time for introspection and to examine whether our HIV advocacy is actually advocacy for all HIV positive people, or for those who have similar lived experiences to ours. Let’s not sacrifice groups that are already ‘othered’ in general society.
It’s a simple idea, but the process won’t be so. Recognising others’ humanity will involve us diagnosing and unlearning the ‘isms’ we carry. Recognising our own, reclaiming our humanity will require us to challenge our internal voices that have dubbed us under-serving for far too long.
I am hopeful, but it won’t be light work. We need to be in this together.