Workable Sisterhood: The Political Journey of Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS

By Michele Tracy Berger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Life Reconstruction and the Development
of Nontraditional Political Resources

WHAT IS LIFE RECONSTRUCTION?

IN THE LITERATURE on empowerment and women with HIV/AIDS, there has been little research that has sought to document the specific ways women empower themselves, or what types of special processes women with the HIV/AIDS virus might undergo along the way of becoming politicized. Calling this process life reconstruction highlights some specific methods and techniques these respondents employed en route to their own and others’ empowerment. Life reconstruction also highlights microlevel processes, which constitute for the women a set of tools for a reframing and redirection of the cumulative effects of HIV-stigma. Chapter 6 explores in depth the gendered aspects of the life reconstruction process.

This chapter discusses the concept of life reconstruction as a process integral to the development of political empowerment for the respondents. It specifically focuses on the external resources discovered, cultivated, and used that created the conditions for internal resources to develop. During substance abuse treatment and recovery, for example, respondents were introduced to therapy, spirituality, the language of advocacy, advocacy education, and to city- and state-sponsored programs for HIV-positive women. After being exposed to some of the rudiments of advocacy, respondents adapted, expanded, and improved upon this foundation as they became active in their communities.

As the recovery and gender identity components of life reconstruction are highly relational and interactive categories, both spheres have consequences for respondents’ ability to stay drug-free.

Life reconstruction although broken apart for analytic clarity, comprised a set of ongoing activities. Each of the women took a specific path in the life reconstruction process, yet the end result was one of commonality and shared experiences. I argue that the degree to which respondents were able to maintain their later participation depended on how much they gained from this process. Those who have not been able to successfully undergo this process are hindered in the development of a “public voice.” A public voice is a term I use to describe the outcome of acceptance and responsibility

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