Sparking collaborative activism at IAC 2018

Posted on August 29, 2018  |  Related Issues: Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health, Women, Girls, and HIV, U.S. Foreign Policy & Funding

CHANGE President Serra Sippel stood before a crowd of attendees at the 2018 International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Amsterdam and rallied them to build their momentum. “There is no rest in the resistance,” she said.

CHANGE President Serra Sippel speaks at the 2018 International AIDS Conference

Serra Sippel speaks at the 2018 International AIDS Conference

Her remarks opened “The Trump Effect: How the U.S. is Jeopardizing the Global AIDS Response,” one of the many sessions CHANGE organized and participated in during the conference. We also attended the Women Now! Summit; co-hosted a global gag rule workshop and the Our Bodies, Our Fight pre-conference; marched in the sex worker’s rights march; and ran a global gag rule quiz show, among other events. The International AIDS Society (IAS) and The Lancet Commission (of which Serra is a Commissioner) launched their landmark report on the future of the HIV response; each of the conference’s more than 16,000 attendees received a copy of the report, of which Serra is a co-author.

We felt a lot of excitement throughout the conference about the interaction between the global gag rule and abortion issues with the AIDS movement. It was this collaborative space we carved out in Amsterdam that brought together individuals who might not have otherwise met. Activists, advocates, scientists, government officials, and more convened to hold conversations across sectors, and in so doing united movements whose goals are interrelated and interdependent.  

We were also struck by the intentional inclusivity of the conference. Within the Global Village in particular, key populations — such as LGBTQ+ individuals and sex workers — moved throughout the space, participating in demonstrations and forging friendships and connections. Members of these populations were also presenters and panelists in the conference at large, and likewise members of the scientific and research communities could be found both in the Global Village and on the main stage.

We also convened throughout the week with fellow activists and advocates at our booth in the Global Village. As conference attendees filtered past us, we talked with them about the global gag rule, U.S. global HIV and AIDS policy and sexual and reproductive rights more broadly. We shared our mission and our work with passersby, distributed anti-prostitution loyalty oath (APLO) policy briefs and female condoms, and fit well into many of the important conversations happening around us, such as those occurring in the Sex Workers’ Networking Zone across from our booth.

A number of those conversations centered on how restricted funding was for many of the organizations present, and the red tape hampering their efforts to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. Even traditionally siloed funding streams have been affected by policies such as the APLO and the global gag rule, of which many conference attendees — namely those from Global North countries — were unaware. And so the dialogue we were having around the policy became all the more important.

The inclusion, visibility, and activism showcased at IAC inspired us and reinvigorated our work as we returned to Washington, D.C. Those individuals in key populations who have been intensely marginalized and criminalized were present with both strength and openness, and used their experiences to urge them to resistance even more.

As Dean Peacock, co-executive director of Sonke Gender Justice, said during the Trump Effect Satellite Session, “Disbursement of U.S. funds are contingent upon signing the global gag rule, but our principles are not for sale.”

IAC 2018 reaffirmed that for us. In the weeks and months after Amsterdam, we’ll continue to keep the inclusive activism we saw at the conference at the forefront of our work. The resistance doesn’t rest.


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