This book arises out of four conferences held in Scotland between 1988 and 1991, organised by the Scottish Women and HIV/AIDS Network. The Network was established in 1988 with the aim of bringing together those working in the field of AIDS who were concerned about women’s issues. When AIDS was first described in the early 1980s, it was thought to be a disease that affected only gay men. It was not long before AIDS was recognised to be the same as the disease that was killing many people in Africa, both men and women. By 1982 it was accepted that AIDS had an infective cause and in 1984 the virus that was subsequently named HIV was isolated. Yet many people in the West continued to see AIDS as a disease of gay men, and assumed that other people, including women, would not be at risk—that somehow, inexplicably, Africa was different. Women were affected by AIDS, as friends, sisters, mothers, carers and sometimes as lovers of men with AIDS, but it was thought unlikely that women in the West would develop AIDS.
By 1985, it was clear that people in the West other than gay men were developing AIDS—people who had become infected through blood transfusions, needle-sharing drug users, babies of infected drug users and even people who had become infected through heterosexual intercourse. Women, heterosexual men and children were developing AIDS, and the fact that women were at risk could no longer be ignored. But as women became infected and began to look for information and support, they found that the information available often did not apply to them, that most services were geared towards men, and that doctors and other professionals were often unprepared for the particular issues that women would raise.
By the end of 1987 there were 371 women in Scotland who had tested positive for HIV. By the same date there were 779 women in the whole of the UK known to be HIV positive. Thus at that time women in Scotland accounted for almost half of all women in the UK who were known to have HIV infection. In January 1988 a group of women working in the AIDS field