No More Secrets: An AIDS Activist's Wish
Seven years ago, Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga was raped while walking home from school in her home country of Bolivia. Like many other rape survivors, Gracia became increasingly sexually active after her trauma. She didn't know the risks involved, so she didn't protect herself. Later that year, she was diagnosed with HIV.
As a woman living with HIV and an activist, she now fights for information, medication, and rights for people with HIV/AIDS. In honor of World AIDS Day, this December 1, teenwire.com asked Violeta about her work and about how women, girls, and all young people are affected by HIV and AIDS.
teenwire.com (tw): World AIDS Day this year focuses on inequality and HIV/AIDS in women and girls. How do gender roles affect the spread of the virus?
Gracia Violeta Quiroga (GVQ): In Latin America, we have machismo as the main basis of our culture. The condom situation for women is quite difficult, especially if women depend economically or emotionally on a man or if there is gender-based violence. Some men resist condoms because it goes against their idea of a real man or what a man is supposed to do with sexuality.
I am very interested and very passionate about this issue because I am a survivor of sexual violence. I was raped by two men in the street. These men thought that they had the right to use my body. Now consider the fact that many women are raped by someone close to them — their husband, their uncle, their stepfather. How do we expect these women to say, "Use a condom?" It is simply not going to work.
The numbers of women with HIV are increasing every day. I am working as a volunteer with the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS because if we don't fight gender inequality, we will never go a step forward on the AIDS response.
tw: Why is it so important to talk to young people about HIV and AIDS?
GVQ: I acquired HIV when I was 20, and now I am 27. My life has changed forever because of HIV. I have many friends who died at the age of 20 from AIDS, which means they had gotten HIV at the age of 13 or 12. Young people are having sex, but they are doing this without the correct information. Communities, families, churches, and schools are not providing the information because young people are supposed to stay without sexual activity.
We need to be frank and honest with young people and tell them about the pleasure of sexual activity, but also about the risks. Let them decide. There is a panic in society and among policymakers that as soon as young people receive information, they will go and have sex like crazy. [Teenagers] are conscious people who can make conscious decisions and they don't go and have sex just because they received a workshop about it.
We are living in an AIDS era. If we don't give all the information to women and to young people, we become responsible for the risks these people will later take because they didn't have the right information about HIV and AIDS.
tw: How can we fight the discrimination and stigma that women, girls, and others living with HIV sometimes face?
GVQ: Some people think they will never face a situation related to AIDS. I really think in five years, all of us will know someone with HIV. I am infected with HIV, but we are all affected by HIV and AIDS. In fact, we are all living with HIV. By the fact that I live in this city and some person is talking to me, this person is also cohabitating with HIV.
With generic medications and initiatives around the world, there will be medications for people living with HIV. I hope this new situation will give a new face to the AIDS pandemic and I hope we will all be able to discuss issues about sex and AIDS honestly and openly. I think it's time to stop the silence, because in the AIDS era, we cannot keep any secrets anymore.