This is a statement read out by the group of 23 women as Michel Sidibe took to the stage at the opening plenary.
“…a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is not struggle at all.” – Arundhati Roy
We are the group of 23 women who dared to step into the light, to place ourselves at the heart of it, below it and within it. We dared to put pen to paper and say we will not keep quiet, that we will speak for those who have spoken and were silenced and for those who were too afraid to go public.
We have continued to speak out, we have met, written, consulted, spoken, begged, asked and spoken some more…everything we do is in solidarity with women, women who have for too long been forced to stay in the dark. We have stepped into the light.
We have been disappointed many, many times, but we have been in the struggle long enough to know this is a marathon, not a sprint and that victory is certain.
We feel strongly that there is a lack of respect, that individuals such as UNAIDS Chief Michel Sidibe, who has been an enabler and protector of sexual harassment, continues to be invited into women’s spaces, into spaces we occupy and fought hard to be in. That him being given platforms, is a secondary violation.
We hold no brief, we have no political ambitions, there is no monetary reward, we are simply a group of individual women who are speaking for ourselves, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our Comrades…who have for too long been silenced because we know we are up against a patriarchy machine which is well oiled and well-funded.
We refuse to hide behind structures and organisations to symbolically show other women we can show up for each other without asking for permission or a mandate.
We have been stripped of our dignity and power, but again we rise!
We do not ask for much:
- We call on donors to continue supporting us and our struggle. We have heard too many stories of donors and those who sign the cheques using their power to bully and threaten those who dare challenge the power and position of people like Michel Sidibe.
- We appeal to Michel Sidibe to step away from his scripted, spun, rehearsed propaganda machine and for once to look us in the eye and speak the truth. No more tears, let’s speak honestly and let’s make the difficult decisions.
Today we draw a panty line…not to be sensational, but because we have drawn a symbolic line in the sand. The panties symbolize the continuous violence against women and our struggles. They violate us daily, we continue to bleed.
We also note the information revealed by our sister at AIDS-Free World Paula Donovan, showing that we are up against a big, well paid machine. That we are the cannon fodder as big men and their women battle to cover their tracks. We will not be silenced, the AIDS struggle will not be sacrificed.
AIDS 2018 in Amsterdam will be remembered as a moment where women drew a line in the sand. It will be our #MeToo #UsToo moment.
We invite all allies of women, all believers that women rights are human rights to show your support at this conference, to add your voice. Each time you speak or present in a session, say one thing, beam it on the screen: “I Believe Her! Silence is violence! Time for change is now!”
An attack on women’s bodies is an attack on the AIDS struggle.
Signed by Group of 23 Women:
Vuyiseka Dubula, Activist, former TAC Secretary General, South Africa
Nomfundo Eland, Feminist Activist, South Africa
Shereen Essof, Feminist Activist, International
Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, SHRR Expert, South Africa
Sisonke Msimang, Writer, South Africa & Australia
Sipho Mthati, Activist, Former TAC Secretary General, South Africa
Dr Lydia Buzaalirwa, Activist, Uganda
Aisha Kangere, Activist, Uganda
Martha Tholanah, Feminist, Zimbabwe
Seehaam Samaai, African Feminist Lawyer, South Africa
Alice Kayongo, Feminist Activist, Uganda
Lucinda van den Heever, African Feminist and Queer activist, South Africa
Winnie Muiisa, Activist, Uganda
Prima Kwangala, Advocate, Uganda
Polly Clayden, United Kingdom
Dr Francoise Louis, Activist, South Africa
Irene Omoding, Activist, Uganda
Oluwakemi Gbadamosi, Activist, Uganda
Peace Nyangoma, Activist, Uganda
Vuyokazi Matiso-Gonyela, Feminist, South Africa
Yvette Raphael, Feminist, South Africa
Dr Cecilia Natembo, Activist, Uganda
Salome Ssekakoni, Activist, USA
Lebo Ramofoko, Activist, South Africa
Steve Letsike, Activist, South Africa
Sharon Ekambaram, Feminist, South Africa
For interviews, pls contact via Whatsapp:
Vuyiseka Dubula +27 82 763 3005
Vuyokazi Gonyela +27 73 636 1373
Yvette Raphael +27 76 612 7704