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Why I Will Not Join the Celebration

World AIDS Day (WAD) came upon us again on the 1st of December – 2008 marking the 20th such commemoration. Surprisingly we are still doing the same things we have done over the years. So many resources, and so much time was put into preparing for the national event in Zimbabwe, and all in the spirit of the multisectoral approach following the three ones. We still had the same messages on leadership that we have had over the last few years, and still had the big national event in the Mashonaland Central provincial capital of Bindura.

I believe this commemoration has lost its significance in the way the official national commemorations are done. People living with HIV (PLHIV) are remembered on these “celebrations” so that they can give testimonies – an afterthought that is soon forgotten as soon as this media and political opportunity is gone – and called upon again twelve months later. These PLHIV are the beneficiaries who are mentioned in the proposals that get us ASOs the big donor funding that sees us through programmatic years, but their only benefit is to get a T-shirt and a meal on WAD. It is high time that PLHIV set the agenda for how the commemoration is done. Why have such big budget celebrations of WAD when PLHIV are failing to access services due to the cash crunch, lack of functional health services and lack of essential food? Why partake in this event that pays only lip-service to our concerns, and leaves us without any assurance of access to essential services that will ensure our positive living is indeed just that – positive living?

As a person living with HIV, this was the second WAD (after the 2007 in Chiredzi, Masvingo Province) that I have had no desire to participate in. This is because I feel PLHIV are still not setting the agenda. There are still the forces that determine what is to be done, and how, and then declare that that is what PLHIV should buy into. I feel these national celebrations have lost their relevance for PLHIV. Certainly I see no relevance for me as a woman who is HIV-positive.

WAD also happens to occur during the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. The Zimbabwean official machinery, from its public messaging, seems to confine gender-based violence (GBV) to translate to domestic violence. I applaud them for campaigning against violence in private homes. I am much more concerned about the very visible violence against women that has been occurring in our nation over the election period. The ministry has been silent over the decline in the public health care sector that has impacted mostly on women as consumers of the service, and on women as they constitute the bulk of the health care workers. I have not heard any official statement on the stance of the Ministry responsible for women and gender as regards the arrests of women as they demand an end to the multitude of crises that have now become part of Zimbabwean women’s daily lives. We have not heard anything regarding the official stance on the lack of access to essential services and basic foodstuff. Women of Zimbabwe have undergone so many hardships, and there has been nothing from the Ministry, yet they are well placed to amplify women’s concerns in such obvious. Women have been abducted, arrested, beaten up and raped, yet the public sector women’s leadership have remained silent, only to invite women to an elite hotel to “celebrate” 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

“Celebrate” was the exact word used in the invitation. This celebration was being done in the same week that one of the prominent women activists had disappeared and her whereabouts unknown. I believe civil society and women’s rights activists who partook of this so-called celebration did a big disservice to the voiceless women they claim to speak for. What is it that makes us collude with institutions that are abusive of our basic rights? While celebrating in the elite hotel, many were succumbing to cholera, diarrhoea, and other diseases due to lack of safe water, functional health services, essential medicines, health care staff, etc.

In early December 2007, I lost any faith I ever had in such commemorations and celebrations. Due to a death of a close family relative, I happened to spend the night in one settlement set up by the government after the Operation Murambatsvina (clean out the trash) that happened in May 2005. These settlements are called Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (live happily ever after or paradise). I left this place a highly traumatised person as I found it difficult to cope with the reality of the way of life of the residents of this area that I witnessed. I have now decided to post on my blog the reflections about this experience that I sent to the national leadership in health HIV & AIDS – both civil society ad government – from whom I still await a response and some action, before they can expect my participation in their “celebrations”.

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