Vienna 2010: Global Village, Vienna Express and Laxmi Tripathi

The Global Village at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna was officially opened on 19th July by the Mayor of Vienna and Laxmi Narayan Tripathi of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers.

The Global Village started at the Bangkok AIDS conference in 2004. The Global Village is a diverse and vibrant space where communities gather from all over the world to meet, share and learn from each other. It is a space for communities to demonstrate the application of science and good leadership. It is also a space that invites conference participants to see how science translates into community action and intervention.

The Global Village promotes networking between north and south, east and west and provides a space for displays, discussions and performances from throughout the world. The Global Village is open to the general public and conference delegates and admission is free.

Laxmi Tripathi, a tall beautiful and handsome Hijra (transgender) from India, feels deeply pleased and honored to have this opportunity to officially open the Global Village. She continuously captivates the attention of the conference participants with her words, stunning dresses, gorgeous jewellery and a very warm and affectionate attitude. Laxmi is an accomplished Indian dancer and actress.

Laxmi is a hijra, they are men who dress and act like women from India and preserve a third gender role through tradition. Hijras do not try to pass for females, such as transsexuals might. They are neither male nor female, but a third gender, ensconced in Indian culture for years, and often defined as eunuchs.

Laxmi is very vocal with her comments and is continuously fighting to protect the rights of her community. She hopes this conference, emphasizing and promoting human rights, will also focus on protecting her community, which is being neglected by governments in their interventions.

According to an earlier survey, there is high prevalence of HIV in the Hijra community. Friends from her community are dying and the numbers are alarming. This needs to be acknowledged and strong and fast action must be taken by governments and UNAIDS to protect them.

The Vienna Express passengers led by Dutch humanitarian organisation AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) attended the opening ceremony of the Global Village at the AIDS2010 conference in Vienna.

Laxmi, while hosting the opening ceremony, commented on the AFEW’s Vienna Express Wish Tree that, “it is so wonderful, because I truly believe that wishes are important. Every human being has a precious wish or desire and a tree is the best medium for this! It’s innovative and it’s the first time I’ve seen something like this at a conference”.

Laxmi introduced the Vienna Express and the East-West Wish Tree in the opening ceremony of the Global Village. The ceremony was a celebration of the different continents, ethnicities and communities represented in the village.

Through the Vienna Express, AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) is shining the spotlight on the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This region, which has faced unprecedented social and economic upheavals over the past decades, is now struggling to contend with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world.

The biggest drivers of the epidemic are injecting drug use and unprotected sex. Altogether, an estimated 1.5 million people are living with HIV in the region, and a disproportionate number of them are young people.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS

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