Working with Women & AIDS: Medical, Social & Counselling Issues // Review

By Bury, Judy; Morrison, Val et al. | Resources for Feminist Research, Spring/Summer 1994 | Go to article overview
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Working with Women & AIDS: Medical, Social & Counselling Issues // Review


Bury, Judy, Morrison, Val, McLachlan, Sheena, Resources for Feminist Research


The urgency of prevention, treatment and cure for AIDS cannot be overestimated. Typified as a male disease, only recently has the gravity of the women and AIDS picture been revealed. As one author in the first collection of essays states, AIDS has become the leading cause of death for women aged 20-40 years in major cities in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Europe. Approximately three million women worldwide are expected to die of AIDS-related causes by the year 2000.

The subject of Working with Women and AIDS is thus timely and desperately required, given the dearth of information that incorporates social analyses and medical facts related to HIV/AIDS. This collection focusses on women and HIV/AIDS in Britain, with one essay about New York City. The authors have provided an up-to-date compendium of research about counselling/emotional issues, education and prevention issues. There is a well written chapter critiquing the myths surrounding women sex trade workers. The sections on pregnancy, heterosexual transmission and HIV are especially informative.

Sexual contact with men is a particularly significant mode of transmission for women. As Judy Bury reports, more women are becoming effected by sexual contact with men in the UK, by a ratio of almost two to one. She explains that in this third wave of the epidemic, HIV+ men are more likely to infect women primarily because there are more men who are seropositive.

In the UK, most HIV+ women are either injection drug users or their partners of users. She states that in Scotland, most "multiply-deprived" people are Caucasian. Presumably this is because most of the people in Scotland are Caucasian and the class structure is deeply entrenched, but it does not extend to the entire cluster of islands in the region. Bury declares, "in many parts of the UK deprivation is not linked with race" (p. 13) in comparison to the US, where she believes that deprivation is linked with "race."

This supposition is highly problematic, for obvious reasons. Racism has existed in Britain for at least the past 500 years and was intensified through the colonizing period of British history. For the millions of Black Nation peoples (Africans, Asians, Caribbeans, Latin Americans, South Asians, and others whose recent history is rooted in colonial experiences) living in the UK who are currently resisting neo-Nazism, skin headviolence and an increasingly vociferous attack on "immigrants," deprivation is clearly linked to race.

The consequences of this reality with respect to AIDS are many. First, the stresses placed on the immune system are great, due to the often polluted areas of post-industrial inner cities where working class Black Nations people reside. Second, housing conditions are often crowded and poorly maintained; levels of violent crimes in social housing are often relatively high with very little support from law enforcement agencies when required. Third, the kind of employment in which many working-class Black Nations people are engaged is often fraught with poor health and safety standards; exposure to toxic substances or to unhygienic conditions may be a daily reality for "raced" peoples living in Britain. Four, racist violence against non-Caucasians causes fear and injury to those who are (potentially) victimized. For women, the threat of sexualized violence comes with an added possible danger. Transmission rates can thus be effected significantly by the experience of racialized marginalization.

Weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to viral attacks. When people who are literally worn down by the stresses of living in racist regimes come into contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluids or other bodily fluids infected with HIV, they have a higher susceptibility to contracting the virus. People with strong immune systems, on the other hand, may be able to withstand limited contact with the virus without creating HIV antibodies.

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