Using intersectionality for more equal opportunities for women with HIV and AIDS

Global health needs to be decolonised. Women living with HIV worldwide must not only be provided with programmes, but also empowered to develop their own.

3 things women with HIV and AIDS urgently need worldwide

  1. HIV programmes that are not Eurocentric

  2. Programmes that are free from discrimination and marginalisation

  3. Participation

Why global health needs to be decolonised

If you consult Wikipedia, and simplify the term "feminism" to a very basic level of understanding, you learn that it is an umbrella term for a number of different movements that advocate for "equal rights, human dignity and self-determination for all people of all genders, and against sexism".

Global public health is still dominated by a Eurocentric perspective in which men call the shots. Women are underrepresented in the field, as are non-Western ideas of what a public health system could be. Likewise, feminism is traded as a Western invention - or achievement, as the case may be. First of all, this says nothing more than that there was a group of people with enough power and opportunity to claim feminism for themselves and assign it an origin: a thoroughly colonial practice. It says nothing about how feminism came to be and how it is lived and experienced. It is the power over the narrative that counts.

Numerous societies that were traditionally matriarchal before feminism even became a term do not feature at all in feminist historiography, nor do they have a word to say in that history. This, of course, has implications for the lives and treatment of non-white women infected with HIV, suffering from AIDS, or that are otherwise affected by it.

So what might decolonising global health mean? What do women worldwide living with HIV need in order to be treated appropriately? To answer these questions, one must first acknowledge that women affected by HIV are not a homogeneous group. Skin colour, origin, social affiliation, language, sexual orientation, sexual identity and many more are intertwined factors that need to be named and taken into account when it comes to providing needs-based services. Differences must be recognised and be set as the basis for policies. This requires intersectional services. Even if all those affected are confronted with the same health problem, there are very different factors that determine how they deal with it and their needs.

Barriers to access must be removed, participation must be built up and forms of knowledge that exist beyond the Western academic system must be recognised. Access to the dominant knowledge systems must be made possible, because the chance of education is still largely determined by origin. Women worldwide need access to medical therapies, to birth control, they must be able to live their sexuality freely, their dignity and self-determination must be respected.

This means not only providing affected women from all parts of the world with programmes, but also empowering and supporting them to develop as many of their own to address policies and problems.

This commentary is based on the presentation "Intersectional feminist approaches" by Morolake Odetoyinbo at this year's AIDS conference. esanum covered the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, from 29.07. - 02.08.22. Click here for the conference coverage.