Walk the Talk: Towards an AIDS-free generation

Photo credit: Sumita Thapar - CNS
Sumita Thapar - CNS
Leaders from different walks of life – politics, bureaucracy, private sector, gay activism, entertainment – who have demonstrated shared responsibility to the 3 zeros, shared their diverse perspectives on the way forward. Mumbai-based Indian film and stage actor Rahul Bose, known for his commitment to issues of gender and injustice, spoke of the need to raise boys differently in order to address gender inequality.

“The time has come not just for uplifting women from where they are, but uplifting men. How do we get women to demand her partner uses a condom,” he said. “It’s not enough to tell your son to treat women with equality,” Bose added. “Parents will have to lead by example. We need to challenge patriarchy, gender stereotypes and redefine what it means to be macho.”

The President of Fiji, HE Ratu Epeli Nailatikau spoke of his personal involvement in reaching out to school children with HIV prevention information: “I’ve taken the battle to the young people, past the parents and grandparents,” he said. “Partnering with the Church has been very effective,” the President said.

“The private sector must contribute to the AIDS response not just through funding, but also through involving its staff in awareness programmes,” said Lyn Kok, President and CEO, Standard Chartered Bank in Thailand. Through workplace interventions the bank has trained more than 2 million people worldwide. In one initiative, in India, the bank used sports to give life-skills education to young women.

Those who have seen the epidemic over the decades, spoke of generational shifts. Ashok Row Kavi, pioneer gay rights activist from India, said the new generation takes rights and entitlements for granted – “they don’t realize how hard we fought for this,” he said.

Bose spoke of losing friends to AIDS in the 80s. “We were terrified, everyone was falling like nine pins. Twenty five years ago we thought that was the end. Communities working alongside the government have made remarkable success possible, where today we are talking about the 3 Zeros,” he said.

Bose, who runs a foundation working on issues of child sexual abuse and education for marginalized children, said the use of celebrities for causes is often seen with cynicism – that it does little more than raise the brand equity of the person themselves. A celebrity or an ambassador for a cause should be able to take the conversation further, for instance in the case of AIDS, talk about the next challenge such as seeking testing, Bose pointed out. Awareness of HIV status is central to HIV prevention. An estimated 25% of HIV-infected people are unaware of their status. Speakers spoke of the need to make testing services friendly and non-judgmental.

Sumita Thapar, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.