Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

A Feminist Struggle? South African HIV Activism as Feminist Politics

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

A Feminist Struggle? South African HIV Activism as Feminist Politics

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper is a feminist reading of HIV activism in South Africa, of a social movement that does not describe itself as a women's movement: it advocates both women's and men's, trans, hetero- and homosexual peoples' rights for adequate health care and antiretroviral medication. Like many others, Chandra Talpade Mohanty suggests that today's powerful feminism is found in anti-globalization movements that do not necessarily call themselves feminist. These critiques maintain that the theory, critique and activism of grass-root women across the globe, for example around anti-globalization, should also inform academic feminist discussions. This article studies discourses on HIV in Africa by contrasting the politics of the Treatment Action Campaign, a South African activist movement, with social science research literature on HIV in Africa. The contextual and political dimension of the illness is a central feature in activist discourses, a feature that can be described as inherently feminist. The representations of HIV/AIDS in Africa and the policies these imply are strikingly different in the activist and academic discourses. We argue that activists' political orientation and the consequent anti-individualism are key dividing features that lead the activist and research discourses down divergent paths. In contrast, HIV research inhabits a de-politicized and individualizing tendency.

Key words: HIV, activism, feminism, ethnography

Introduction

We are not going to change peoples' perceptions, we are not going to change behavior because the value of life is not significant in South Africa, because people continue to die while we know full well what we can do to save peoples lives. (Sipho Mthathi at SA Commission on Gender Equity on 01.04.2003)

Our bodies are the evidence of global inequality and injustice. They are not mere metaphors for the relationship between inequality and disease. But our bodies are also the sites of resistance. We do not die quietly. We challenge global inequality. Our resistance gives us dignity. In the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the voices of our comrades, friends and children echo around the world to resist injustice. Our voices demand life even as our bodies resist death. (Zackie Achmat, John Foster Lecture 10.11.04.)

Women's movements and feminist activism have been the source of inspiration, energy and ideas for Women's Studies ever since its beginning (e.g. Bernstein & Ndinda 2008). In this article we will study the politics of one contemporary activist group, and ask in which ways such activism could enrich the academic discussions on power and social change. The movement studied here is the South African HIV activist organization Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). We will do a feminist reading of the TAC's agenda even though the TAC does not describe itself as a women's movement; it advocates both women's and men's, trans, hetero- and homosexual peoples' rights for adequate health care, including access to antiretroviral medication (see also Msimang 2003, Mbali 2003). Like many others, Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003) suggests that today's powerful feminism is found in anti-globalization movements that do not necessarily call themselves feminist (see also Conway 2007; Braun 2008). These critiques maintain that the theory, critique and activism of grass-root women across the globe, for example around anti-globalization, should also inform academic feminist discussions. In this article we wish to investigate some of these, especially in terms of feminist theory of embodiment, and feminist approaches to HIV/AIDS in Africa (cf. Kakaru 2008).

The Treatment Action Campaign takes active part in shaping HIV/AIDS discourses and policies both globally and in South Africa (Friedman & Mottiar 2006). The personal, individual experience of the illness is maintained as a starting point not to be bypassed, but the campaign does not remain on the individualizing level, like a lot of AIDS narratives and interventions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.