Copyright © 1999 The Register-Guard
56 percent of those contracting AIDS in Africa are women, according to reports that were publicized on World AIDS Day (December 1). Today, the World Health Organization reports that 500,000 women still die in childbirth every year, and 10.6 MILLION children die before age five. (Think about that figure for a moment.)
So, sit back and fasten your seatbelts. I feel an inarticulate rage-driven rant against the Right-to-Lifers coming on, but I swear, after it's over, I'll share one small thing you can do to make life better for an AIDS orphan.
Whenever one of my female students tells me that she's not a feminist, I've come up with a pat response: "So, what exactly is it about the idea that you're not entitled to the same rights as men that you object to?" The conversations are mind-numbing. "Oh, I don't have a problem with equal rights. I just don't identify with feminism--I mean, I shave my legs and I like boys."
Christ on a Crutch. At this point in the conversation, I usually point out that this person has allowed herself to buy into the Right's interpretation of feminism. She's allowed the enemies of women to tell my student, who usually considers herself a free-thinker (after all, she has tattoos and multiple piercings), that she isn't a feminist because she shaves her legs. And, since many of my closest friends are lesbians, I'm deeply offended by the idea that being considered a lesbian is an insult. If I didn't like boys so much, I'd be a lesbian in a heartbeat.
The next time some "right-to-lifer" tells me that women who have abortions are selfish, or murderers, I'll point out to them that women die every fucking day giving birth. Being pregnant is not a risk-free stroll in the park.
It's this sort of hijacking of the terms of human rights that continues to contribute to the AIDS epidemic around the world. Without the power to control one's own body, one cannot protect oneself. If you have no legal rights to stand up to your husband, you cannot prevent him from fucking you without a condom even though he's HIV positive.
If you cannot control your own body, you cannot make decisions about whether to bring a child into the world. Right-to-lifers who claim that they are doing this out of love for the fetus, but then turn around and refuse to care for the children brought unwillingly into this world, will sit in the inner circle of hell. Right-to-lifers who teach women that they are nothing more than vessels for bringing children into the world do not love women. They hate women, and many of their number are self-haters.
If you cannot take care of your own body as a woman, you cannot take care of the body of your child. You will pass on AIDS because you were not able to protect yourself.
So, back to those 10.6 million children who will die.
18 percent of those children die from diarrhea. I think about that today because in 1998, my 10-month old contracted rotavirus and had to be hospitalized despite efforts to keep her hydrated. Simple sugar water, infused into her veins, kept her alive. For hundreds of thousands of children world-wide, there will be no such help.
Three percent of those children die from AIDS. And how do they acquire AIDS? Through their mothers.
In Africa, orphans roam the streets. Deprived of their parents by AIDS, war, and famine, forgotten children have nowhere to go. The situation is overwhelming, and there are days when I feel helpless. But, there is a tiny thing you can do. There is a small AIDS orphanage called Makindu , where children have a refuge from the brutality of the streets. A donation would go a long way. (full disclosure: my former father-in-law played a part in founding this orphanage.)
The Register-Guard did a series of articles on Makindu. You can read them here:
For a Child's Smile
For heart-breaking photos of what happens to the children left behind because of what happened to their mothers, go here:
The Children Left Behind
For more information about the World Health Organization's focus on women and children today, and the resolutions it is pushing to sharply reduce the numbers of maternal deaths and childhood deaths, go here: