which lives matter?

I don’t know how to start writing about race, race relations, and how to deal with the anger and hurt and fear- and complicity- that lives inside me. It isn’t that I don’t know how to talk about it- it’s that my conversations are with those who have known and lived and experienced similar slights, similar fears, similar slurs. Those that know the ball of fear that sits inside you, that grows with every appropriation; every community tragedy; every underscoring of how little your life is valued.

It’s a difficult- terrifying- conversation to attempt to have outside of that space. To try to explain to someone else what it feels like, why it’s complicated, and try to unravel all the things it’s mixed up with; all the things that it catches on; all the things it shreds bit by bit.

It takes only a word- a place, a name, an object- to evoke a memory, to look to the other person of colour in a room and know they understand, that in that word there is an entire history; an entire summation of endurance and atrocity: of being asked about passports; of being held responsible for one’s entire nation/culture/peoples; of representing an entire nation/culture/peoples; of needing to explain clothes, symbols, rumours, myths; of having to smile grimly at a ‘joke’ about holy cows, terrorists, dirty people, curry; of ‘don’t overreact, it’s only a joke.

Last year, the world added new words: Ferguson, Garner, Rice, Brown <and on some days, the list feels endless>

Mr. Patel is left paralysed for walking past houses, for not speaking English, for being ‘black and looking suspicious’. {he was presumed black -i.e automatically dangerous- and was reported for just walking around. this is next level unpacking of race and race relations}

My father looks a little bit like Mr. Patel- a skinny, older, brown man. He likes taking a morning walk- he did every day when he was visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Buffalo. He would cycle around a mostly-white neighbourhood, exploring a place he’d never been to before. He would walk down roads and peer curiously at peoples’ homes- so different to the worlds he’s known.

He told me, ‘Everything is so big and shiny in that country- it’s hard to not look’.

When the reports of Patel Uncle broke, it was hard not to feel {more than usual} the fear of ‘It could have been one of us’, followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of, ‘He is one of us’. 

{and what I was really thinking: it could have been papa.}

‘Well, at least I speak English’.

Perhaps my father was thinking it too.

Indian news channels have been apoplectic with a giddy anger, demanding answers, & trying to spark a conversation on implications for India-US trade & geopolitical relations.

The short answer? None.

I have {a minimum of} three social media timelines that always fill up quickly with news stories and reactions, debates and conversations, support and solidarity whenever something happens.

I first read about the Chapel Hill murders on Facebook- diaspora and Muslim friends and communities mourning and trying to wrap their heads around this {again}. People trying to make sense of their worlds where you can get shot in the head over {allegedly} parking spots and have it be justified. Where the colour of your skin and your religious worship dictates whether you can be terrorised by that or not. You see, terrorism only looks a certain way, only worships a certain way, only dresses a certain way.

It does not matter if you live your life with a tight ball of fear in your stomach: your terror is not terror enough.

That is not how we understand terrorism, that is not how we define what to fight against. That does not fit into a definition of enemy, it does not fit into how we other. Let us help you find parking, though.

This is not an isolated incident. This is not new.  This is not overzealousness. This is not one policeman. This is not one angry neighbour.

This is not ‘walking around looking suspicious’. This is not ‘parking-lot etiquette’.

‘Why does it matter to you,’ people ask, ‘You don’t live there’.

My brother does. My family does. My friends do. My communities do.

And a whole lot bigger than that: none of our lives are lives of isolation, none of our worlds are worlds removed from each other. We are tied together. Our liberation is incomplete without the other.

It’s not yet March and we’ve added dozens more names to that list- on race, religion, gender expression, sexual orientation lines: Patel Uncle, Deah, Yusor, Razan, Lamia Beard, Penny Proud, Taja DeJesus <and on some days, the list feels endless>.

It bothers me that the majority of the discussion and the reaction around these two incidents has been predominantly from people of colour, Muslim communities, queer allies- those who experience and live oppression every day. I see who reacted to #JeSuisCharlie {& how}, who railed {rightly, of course} against the ISIS beheadings; and yet who have nothing to say about this.

It gives me pause.

It bothers me that in all the coverage on Indian news channels about this- or that SRK frisking, or the attacks on Indian students in Australia- nobody has reminded us {as a nation} of our own complicity, our own unchecked and institutionalised racism, sexism, casteism, classism. As news anchors call for swift action and are incandescent with rage over racist attacks, not one person has referred to our own superiority constructs and heinous acts against others. Nobody has taken this as an opportunity to hold us to account.

Nobody reminded us of a mob at a Delhi metro station beating up African students. No discussion over the everyday racism that the African diaspora in India face, the nonsense they endure at the hands of police, politicians & neighbours, the horrifying and skin-crawlingly awful (current!) rhetoric on Indian Muslims, the attacks on churches, and the absurdity of ‘ghar wapsi‘ and ‘love jihad‘, or the fact that people think this is one of the most racist countries in the world.

And I haven’t even begun to touch on our caste politics yet. {or the kind of language we’re going to see on Sunday during the India vs. Pakistan Cricket World Cup match}

Our outrage when this happens in India is swift {and often liberal, middle class} and just as quickly forgotten- where is the solidarity, the resistance, the analysis of institutionalised; structural racism? Our televisions are still filled with fairness cream ads {with new ones seemingly every day}, and our obsession with white people continues- as lives to aspire to, as examples to follow, as a set standard to replicate. As a power structure to participate in, to collude in, to oppress in.

In India, we talk about our freedom struggles; our work in the non-aligned movement; our {until recently, unwavering} support for the Palestinian and Tibetan struggles. We are told of our support for anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, our boycott of the white supremacist South African government. The legacy of non-violent resistance, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience is handed down to us in saccharine packets of nationalism and patriotism. Gandhiji, Nehruji, Sardar Patel, Netaji- all our upper caste resistors, forging a new country on the backs of a revisionist history: the Ambedkars, the Khan Abdul Gaffar Khans, Asghari Begums, the Bhikaji Camas, the Herabai Tatas all reduced to secondary roles: the Dalits, the Muslims, the women of resistance.

Our socialist roots almost eroded away, our solidarity just empty rhetoric. Our secularism a running joke. These are not the stories handed down to us, these are not the realities we live, the horrors we confront.

We may be post-colonial, but our minds are yet to be decolonised.

Our liberation is still incomplete.

We are still unlearning.
We are still reclaiming.

Donate to support Patel Uncle’s medical costs here.
Donate to support the Syrian American Medical Society, a charity supported by Deah, here.
Donate to support Race Forward’s racial justice work here.
Donate to support the Aerogram’s writing on all things South Asia here.
Donate to support the Alternative Law Forum’s work in India here.
Donate to support Media Diversified here.
Write to Round Table India and ask about donating here.

<this is by no means a comprehensive list- apart from the first two specific causes, these are organisations and collectives whose work resonates with me and that I have learnt from.>

a luta continua.

It’s been a rough week and a bit for the world: so much tragedy and anger and hurt and senselessness. Even Mandela Day couldn’t usher in enough hope for all of us.

A lot of it has hit close to home: one. two. and it feels like a personal blow. You worry about your movements and the struggles, you worry about your friends, you worry about how to continue struggling when it all feels so bereft of point, of hope, of purpose. The HIV/AIDS communities, the LGBTQI communities, the feminist movements… none of us are strangers to loss, to the shock of losing loved ones, the knowledge of death- dying young, unexpectedly, unfairly, too soon, brutally, violently, alone, forgotten. None of us are strangers to impotent governments or intra-governmental processes. None of us are strangers to the politics of death, the ‘how does one make sense of this?’.

The refrain in our movements is to ‘continue the struggle’ so we can honour their memories, their lives; so we can say ‘never again'; ‘one more is too many’. I too am guilty of this- too many e-mails and posts that end in ‘A luta continua‘. I do not mean it cynically- I doubt that any of us do- or as a way to say something when words are hard to find. I think we all genuinely believe this, that it is a way to channel grief and rage into something concrete, into something positive, into something transformative.

But increasingly, I’m worried about what this means and what this says. I worry that we do not create space to grieve, that we do not make space to mourn all that we have lost personally and what a loss it is for our movements. I have learnt that grief changes us, that it shifts how we understand and interact with the world. How loss can sometimes create a hole and we cannot just ignore it, pretend it is not there; but that we must work with it, we must give it the space to be for a while, and we must accept it. It is the last that is the most cruel, because acceptance is difficult; acceptance demands a part of you; acceptance requires time and patience and care. Acceptance is a small, quiet room. We are short on time in our movements, we have begun to treat ‘care’ as a luxury, and small; quiet rooms are hard to come by.

I worry that we are not really acknowledging how this shifts our movements, that it is a larger issue of not taking the time/not having the time to reassess our movements. We have become depoliticised, we have been coopted, our focus has been subverted, we are now multifractioned; and when tragedy like this strikes, when our false silos are revealed to us, and our grief stretches across and wraps itself around the world; it is clear the larger geopolitics that are at play are creating these lines, are fracturing our movements and are shifting our focus. It is this depoliticisation we need to tackle, we cannot continue to pretend that the larger politics have somehow been shut out, that they are not swirling amongst us even now.

I cannot deal with more posts from so-called human rights activists who do not question the role of the Israeli state, but throw around ‘Hamas’ as though it is a justification for Gaza, for the display of Israeli might, for the continued oppression of people, for an apartheid state; and pretend that it has no impact on what we say our struggles are. Madiba knew that all our struggles are interlinked, that we cannot be free while another languishes; that our humanity is tied to each other; that without one we cannot be complete.

2c2d06bbe3d9da09818fa8d5a404d266

No doubt, it is difficult to politicise. It is rejecting what has become the norm, it is denying what is all to easy to take, and it is remaining vigilant to one’s own culpability; one’s own quiet betrayals; to one’s own unthinkingness. It is uncomfortable and it is a conscious decision to challenge, to disturb, to disrupt; and it can get exhausting, tiring, awkward, unsafe. It is asking the question that causes discomfort, it is the refusing to sit down to obey to stop being hysterical to give in to might to just take a joke. But this is what solidarity is. This is the work of allyship.

And this is the struggle.

A luta continua.

tomorrow is a long time

un_name_rn_2014

I struggled with writer’s block (I don’t know if I can still call it that if I don’t actually write anymore), jet lag, exhaustion, and ridiculous hours of flying to try and come up with something halfway decent to say at the High Level Debate. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever written and it doesn’t fully capture my thoughts and opinions; but it’s a fairly decent first attempt. I’ve been thinking about all the things I left out and didn’t think to say and all that I believe in and I wish I could’ve had a bit longer to think it all through, but I suppose this is what it is and I’ve just got to deal.

The video of the full debate it available here, and I speak (really fast!) at roughly about an hour and fifty minutes in; after the Indonesian Parliamentarian. You can read my remarks (more or less) by downloading this PDF: Youth, SRHR, Dev_v.3.

I’m actually most proud of the fact that I draped my sari by myself (after last minute pointers from my mum before I jumped on my flight to NYC) and that I didn’t do too bad of a job with it.

IMG_20140415_191801

after the debate & after battling a particularly strong gust of wind…

I stayed on for the actual Commission and the related-civil society events that took place. I have a fair number of mixed feelings about everything: from being there to issues of ownership to issues of legitimacy to issues of ‘what the fuck’.

There is always the post-event letdown that makes you a bit melancholy, makes you a bit blurry around the edges. Throw in jet lag, utter exhaustion, and a deep sense of betrayal and I’m not sure I have any edges left; I’m not sure I’m solid as much as I am quickly disappearing into nothingness.

It has been an eventful few days and I am still trying to wrap my head around it all; still trying to make sense of what actually happened; how I feel about it all; and where I stand now- how much I have moved away, and how much I have walked away from it.

It is always difficult to walk away from something you have always loved, always believed in. It’s especially hard to walk away when it betrays you in the worst possible way. When it looks at you and tells you that everything you thought was true and good and beautiful and right about it was a lie. When you look around you and you realise that you were the only one naïve enough to think that this was any different from all the other things in the world.

Betrayal stings.

I’ve written before, quite opaquely, about some of the things that bother me about the SRHR ‘movement’. Since I first voiced my issues with it, I’ve gotten more cynical; more distressed by it and I realise that I am at a point where I have moved away from saying anything constructive, from contributing to shifting things to a positive space. I realise I only bring negativity with me now; only bring frustration and irritation and sharp questions that poke rather than gently prod.

I’m not sure about how to be constructive about my criticisms anymore. I’m not sure that I can be. I am increasingly convinced of the need to openly challenge some of the systems of bullshit that we operate within; for the desperate need to call each other out and hold each other accountable to the so-called principles we profess to hold true, to actively question and peel back our assumptions; our truths.

The question is not about the issues- it is not about whether sexual rights, abortion, women’s rights, gender equality, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, young peoples’ rights, comprehensive sexuality education- the entire gamut of things that SRHR includes- is important; is true; is valid- of course they are. The question is about those of us who work on these issues, who champion it, who wear their ‘activist’ / ‘advocate’ tags with pride, who wave the flags, who have forgotten what it is to self-reflect; what it means to stand in ‘solidarity'; what it means to not be a hypocritical little cow. It’s time we hold ourselves accountable to it too; our movement is struggling; is stifled because we refuse to.

I’m not sure about how to go about addressing this. I’m not sure I have the right to even say these things. I’m not sure I ought to- there are so many delicate processes and tensions that abound right now: will I jeopardise something by saying something now? Will I jeopardise the bigger picture by remaining silent?

I am afraid of being shut down, of not being heard, of destroying something rather than re-creating. Of breaking something open before it was ready to be shattered.

For now, perhaps it is best that I take a step back; that I reflect on what frustrates me; that I identify the fissures and the cracks in our spaces. Perhaps it is best that I understand it before I try to transform it.

on forms, gender identities and authenticity

I’ve been struggling with how my feminist politics bump up against my academic ambitions, the realities of funding, and where I ought to draw my lines. I’m still working my way through these uncomfortable spaces, questioning myself, and attempting to hold myself accountable. These aren’t decisions (not every single one, anyway) that have any impact beyond myself and my ambitions and interests, but I still think it’s important to hold myself to what I believe in; even if (especially when?) it may work to my disadvantage*.

The other day, I was working on PhD applications and after looking at yet-another form that has only two options (male or female) under ‘gender’, I tweeted:

My research interests are particularly related to the issues that most Gender departments work on/are interested in. Seeing such a binary understanding of gender reflected in the application forms makes me question what sort of inclusivity these universities are on about, makes me question if this is a safe space at all, and it makes me feel that academia is continuing in its bubble of exclusivity and continuing to uphold institutions and systems of oppression**.

It also makes me question the strength of and the work of the Gender departments*** in the first place. How can you produce progressive and critical research on gender, if the application forms are stuck in a binary understanding? Does that mean that research stays research with no implications on the real world? I feel as though it creates a space where cis folk continue to opine upon everyone elses’ identities and continue to ‘other’ people for their own gains and academic points, it feels like it then shuts out voices and peoples whose lived experiences these are; whose realities are being ‘researched'; and it reduces them to ‘subjects’ only.

I don’t think I want to work with a Gender department that doesn’t recognise (and implicitly, at the very least, excludes) peoples’ identities and requires them to work within a binary. I don’t think that this is a space for me and for my research. I decided against applying to these universities. And this is a difficult decision to take when they do produce great work on my specific interests, or have funding for it*.

Some universities give you the option of ‘Other’, which is still deeply problematic. Even in supposed ‘inclusivity’, it (literally!) others anyone that doesn’t identify with constructions of ‘male’ or ‘female’. I suppose I should give them some credit for effort, but I really feel as though they ought to know better than this; they ought to be better than this, and they really ought to have worked on creating safer, inclusive spaces.

That tweet sparked a small discussion and the Women Coding Collective linked me to this excellent piece on handling gender in forms and websites. It’s a really good read and it raises some truly excellent points, and offers a way forward that I think universities ought to look into to address some of the considerations they may have and still work towards a more inclusive space.

Yesterday, Facebook added more than 50 custom gender options for users and allows you to assign the appropriate/preferred pronoun for yourself. It may seem silly because it’s facebook, but it’s a huge company and it’s a social platform and it ensures that people can express themselves authentically. It recognises you and you’re able to proclaim that to your family and friends and colleagues and professors, if that’s what you want to do (and allows you to filter that so you have control over your privacy). And I think that’s so important, because one’s authenticity is about love, it’s about affirmation, it’s about identity and these are important; important things.

And, if Facebook can begin to do this and is learning and trying and growing; then why can’t academia? Why can’t universities attempt to create such spaces? I realise that the Facebook gender options list is still new and we’re still waiting to see how it works and what needs to shift and change and what isn’t working… but this is a step towards  embracing and celebrating and loving the diversity of our worlds, of our identities, of our lives. This can only be a good thing, I think.

*I don’t want to come off sounding as though this is some sort of sacrifice on my part. It really isn’t. I’ve just been thinking about it and how refusing to apply to a place has an impact on my academic ambitions; but my ambitions aren’t all that important if it comes at the price of my own beliefs. I also want to emphasise that, as a cis-gendered, (usually)stupidly privileged person I’m aware of how I actually have the luxury of choice and of these options that many people do not. I’m just attempting to reflect on the privileged spaces I occupy and have access to, and how I navigate that. I’m still learning and unpacking things, so discussion and commentary and criticism is welcome. 

** And while this post is limited to academia, I think it’s also relevant to development/aid spaces. That’s a rather huge discussion on its own and deserving of its own post, so I’ll sit on that one for now. 

*** In my, admittedly biased, opinion; gender departments are usually the ones with the least amount of funds; where a lot of progressive thought and action takes places; where issues that challenge and the subvert the patriarchy and kyriarchy are tackled (see: gender identity, sexual orientation, feminist theories, abortion rights…). So, I find it especially disappointing (perhaps naïvely) when it doesn’t live up to my expectations.  

regression

regenbogen parade, vienna. 2008.

regenbogen parade, austria. 2008.

i am a little bit broken today and i am not sure how long it will take for my heart to be little less shattered and my soul to feel a little less wounded because today has been a slap in the face reverberating across the indian ocean and into my world and echoing, echoing, echoing.

this is not the sort of post that needs capitalisation. i cannot bring myself to give it much more than what it makes me feel: small, insignificant, not a proper noun, not worthy of a proper beginning.

i haven’t been in india for many a momentous occasion, reduced to following a livestream for weddings and birthdays and memorials and elections and cricket matches and the course and chart of a country i still struggle on some days to fully consider my own. i have no other that i can lay claim to like i can lay claim to india, no other that fills me with as much despair as she does hope and no other that i can cling to even when i don’t quite understand why.

i have had much of india to observe from the sidelines, to participate from away and for a long time i did not realise how it gives you tiny little tears and i never quite appreciated the longing i had for filter coffee on a foggy bangalore morning, and the things i take/took for granted about her. it is only recently in the last seven-odd years that i have tied more strings to india than i have lost.

in 2009, i lived in manila. an eight hour flight away from all things india.

2nd july 2009: the delhi high court ruled that homosexual intercourse among consenting adults is not a criminal act (newspaper). it was a historic judgement, a reading down of a colonial, victorian era law (377 wiki); a commemorative moment for all the lives we have lost in our struggle for equality, a jubilant moment of victory; of freedom; of recognition; a triumphant moment to break open our closets and come out of our almairahs.

i was overwhelmed with emotions then: joy, fierce pride, relief, grief, triumph… and a fervent need to be in india, celebrating with the people who knew what this meant; to be with- for something i consciously recognised for the first time- my people whose struggle this was; whose triumph this was. i could console myself with knowing that i was still fighting this fight, still working to forge a path, still contributing; even from a distance; even from so far away.

11th december 2013: the supreme court of india reverses the landmark 2009 ruling,  reinstates section 377 of the indian penal code, and calls on the parliament to legislate on the issue. baba ramdev promises to cure you of your homosexuality, and we are actively shoving people into our steel godrej almairahs because of… cowardice, spinelessness, and a sold/lost conscience. we’re actively upholding a colonial law, branding ourselves with these alien legacies.

i am outraged, angry, hurt, disappointed, afraid, and i am not quite sure what else, but i am filled with so much emotion; it has been hard not to cry at work or feel bereft, feel so far away from what is real, and how it is so quickly something else. i am caught between hysterical laughter at the responses- ‘supreme court, pyaar ki dushman‘ (supreme court, the enemy of love), ‘because human rights are not as important as beacon rights‘- and utter despair. i am glad there are protests being organised and that this fight is not over, it’s not done yet, there’s a long; long way to go and there is (most of) the world’s largest democracy to go with you along every step of the rainbow-hued way.

i am still so far away from india, and i have never quite felt as far away as i do right now. i am devastated and i cannot sit here and theorise about this, i cannot theorise about peoples’- my peoples’- worlds and realities, and i cannot be here and not there.

i am devastated and i am not sure that there is anything that can heal this hurt as being in india, holding a flag, and walking; marching; running, step-by-step along this path we’re forging; we’re claiming; we’re refusing to yield, can.

pride march, philippines. 2009.

pride march, philippines. 2009.

also see: ‘our rights come to us from our sense of dignity, our sense of self, our sense of humanity; and no single judgement has the ability to take that from us’ 

noone ever told us we were gonna be left alone

We are just about two weeks from the last month of the year and I don’t know how we came to be here so quickly, so without resolution and so completely surrounded by weariness.

It has been a long year.

I do not remember if I brought disillusionment with me into 2012 or if it’s something I’ve picked up as we stumbled through the year.

My recollections of the past ten months are tinged with bitterness, some triumph; but mostly, with incomprehension.

January was a whole other country, a whole other person.

I know we’re all tired at this time of the year. I know it gets harder and harder to find a bit of magic in the every day when misery, heartache and wretchedness confronts you at every corner.

This weekend, I swore to myself, would be work-free. I would spend it watching tennis, films; have a Homeland marathon; read. I was house/dog sitting for a friend- I could pretend to be on holiday already; not just a six minute stroll from my own bed.

The doorbell rang this morning and an emaciated man begged me to let him work on the lawn so he could afford to eat.

It gets harder and harder to say no, to steel yourself to empathy; to despair.

I ploughed through my work to-do list this afternoon.

It has been a year of heartbreak.

Friends have lost homes, families, parents, lives and every day there is a knot of dread that refuses to unclench at what else will break today, where else the tears are shed and for whom the bells will toll.

There is violence everywhere I look.

I speak of human rights and bodily integrities and autonomies and throw around terms of legalese, aid-speak garble that is supposedly important to how our health systems work, the world’s priorities, and, bottom line, whether women and young people die or whether they live.

I speak and challenge and debate and question and advocate and write and critique and fly across the world, and when it comes down to it- I cross my fingers and hope and plead and hope and plead that somehow, someone, somewhere will just give a shite about all the numbers and statistics and arguments that is laid out in front of them.

But when reality goes beyond a piece a paper, we sit down in community spaces and fill it up with words and figures and facts and graphs and people tell us to ‘speak their language’ because we are incomprehensible. Un-understandable. It pierces me with half parts irony and half parts hysteria because the words and figure and facts and graphs are nothing but what people live every single day.

And we say ‘everyday realities’ and nobody knows what we’re saying. Because we never ask ‘whose everyday realities?’, never step back and question ‘what does that even mean?’. Because if we were to, we would have to question everything. In the end, when we say ‘everyday realities’ we mean the lives of others.

November is a filled with words. And I read them, jaded.

On Friday, I tweeted: ‘Alternate career choices. Go.’

Friends told me (half jokingly, I’m sure) to teach English, teach Dev/Aid related things at University, bake, become a midwife {definitely a joke}. And I marvelled at all the things people think {however facetiously} I could be- things I once thought I could do.

It would be better for my sanity, my health, my social life and my sense of self to be a professional dog-walker, book recommender, speech writer, a chef at an intimate invite-only restaurant- anything but this faith-destroying work that takes everything I believe in and crushes it every single day and flings it right back at me; mocking me to pick it up, pick it up and come back for more in the next few hours because none of this sleeps, none of it ever takes a break, and the joke’s on you if you ever thought you could.

It would be better. I would be happier.

But, I’m not sure how far I can run without wanting and wishing and waiting to be yanked right back into it all.

It is almost December and I cannot remember much of January.

Only that I believed. And I would be miserable if I were not here.

 

 

we face a global crisis.

A crisis of economies flatlining, people struggling to survive, more children born into poverty than ever before. A crisis of hunger, of conflict, of a world falling apart. We face a global crisis. A crisis of conscience.

I’m in Addis Ababa, attending the largest regional conference on HIV/AIDS in the world (second in number of attendees only to the global International AIDS Conference)- ICASA2011. If you follow my @rishie_ account, you’ll have seen me flooding your timeline with tweets from sessions and other inane, but related, commentary.

Stephen Lewis, former UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS; Knight Commander of the Most Dignified Order of Moshoeshoe; and now of aids-free world, spoke at yesterday’s plenary session and my heart is still breaking; my lower lip is still a little wobbly; and I am still filled with an overwhelming sense of despair, dismay, and bafflement.

I’m not sure that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria is something that makes the news, or is something that people who aren’t impacted by HIV/AIDS know about.. but, it’s a really; really; really big deal. Governments made a commitment to fund initiatives and to scale-up responses to HIV/AIDS. And now, they’ve cancelled an entire round of funding until 2014 because governments did not fulfill their promises. They have, in effect, condemned hundreds of thousands of people to death.

The anger, fear, heartbreak is hard to escape here. People are upset, they’re scared, they’re angry. And who can blame them? We have been failed by our leaders, failed on a colossal level; and how are we to hold them accountable when it feels as though they, quite simply, do not care?

Stephen Lewis’ speech left many members of the audience wiping away tears surreptitiously, nodding emphatically, and plain breaking into applause every few minutes. My colleague, an African, remarked, ‘It makes me sad that we needed someone else to speak for us. Where are our African leaders? Why didn’t any of them ask these questions?’. And, I’ll be honest, it made me a unbearably sad- not because African leaders weren’t asking these questions; making these comments; or prioritising their people, but because it seems as though nobody is. Nobody in power is prioritising peoples’ lives, their health, or their rights. Nobody.

Lewis’ anger and frustration has mirrored so much of my own annoyance:

I’m thrilled at the creation of UN Women, and the possibility, once they join as a formal co-sponsor of UNAIDS, that the focus on women will be given a new lease on life. But I can’t dislodge from my mind the experience of my years in the role as Envoy, and subsequently working with AIDS-Free World, when it became clear that in every aspect of the pandemic women were rendered subordinate. Gender inequality doomed their lives. Sexual violence fed and feeds the virus. The entire survival of communities and families was placed on their shoulders. Men were the social determinants of women’s health, and men simply didn’t care. As we come to this thrilling moment of potential progress, I can’t avoid the spectral faces of stigma, discrimination, isolation, and pain, and they are the faces of women. That doesn’t mean that women aren’t the core of courage and strength in this pandemic; it simply means that they have to struggle valiantly to challenge the phalanx of male privilege, of male hegemony. Just a few days ago, coincident with World AIDS Day, the Harvard School of Public Health held a symposium called AIDS@30 to assess the past and plot the future. The symposium had a Global Advisory Council of nineteen eminent experts on the pandemic: 17 men and 2 women. It is ever thus.  It’s the rare woman indeed who doesn’t ultimately report to a man in the world of HIV, or who can command, ever-so-rarely, the place and presence that legions of men command automatically.

He perfectly reflected my own anger, disbelief, shock, and as always, disappointment, with the world:

I’m thrilled with the turnaround in South Africa. The dramatic roll-out of treatment is nothing short of miraculous. But I remember all those years of denialism, and not a single voice at the most senior levels of the United Nations—Under-Secretaries-General, the Secretary-General himself. Not one of them said publicly to Thabo Mbeki, “You’re killing your people”. Oh, to be sure, it was said in private by everyone. They took Thabo Mbeki aside and begged him to reverse course. He didn’t budge an inch. Around him, in every community in South Africa, and in communities throughout a continent heavily influenced by South Africa, were the killing fields of AIDS. As we come to this thrilling moment of progress, I can’t forget the millions who died on Thabo Mbeki’s watch, while those who should have confronted him before the eyes of the world stood mute.

He was able to articulate the thoughts of thousands of advocates who work with these numbers on a daily basis, doctors who have to choose who to put on ARVs because the medicines are in short supply, people who have to beg donors for a little bit more money, or turn away people because we just don’t have the resources to help.

So if you sense a certain impatience in me, you’re right. We don’t have another day to lose. Peter Piot did the arithmetic yesterday … 1,350,000 put on treatment in 2010; 2,700,000 new infections, exactly double the number in treatment in the same year. It works out to 7,397 new infections every day. And it’s 2011, for God’s sake. It’s appalling that such numbers continue to haunt us; it’s heart-breaking beyond endurance to contemplate further exponential agony. We cannot delay another minute in putting the ‘prevention combination’ to work.

And I think, judging from the mood in the corridors, that’s what seizes this conference. But right at the moment when we know, irrefutably, that we can defeat this pandemic, we’re sucker-punched at the Global Fund.

What’s a sucker punch? It’s when a boxer in the ring gets a punch below the belt that he doesn’t see coming. No one expected a complete cancellation of Round Eleven, with new money unavailable for implementation until 2014.

It’s just the latest blow in a long list of betrayals on the part of the donor countries, in this instance the Europeans in particular. I’ve heard from several people that the politics of the Global Fund meeting in Accra two weeks ago, when the decision was made, were not just complicated, but amounted to miserable internecine warfare. Certain governments on the Board of the Global Fund simply discredited themselves. They give a soiled name to the principle of international solidarity. The Chair of the Board, in a remarkably convoluted effort, tried to explain things in a press release. He would have done far better to remain silent.

The decision on the part of the donor countries is unforgiveable. In a speech a few days ago, I addressed the Global Fund predicament by talking of the moral implications of a decision that you know will result in death … death on the African continent.

I won’t copy and paste the rest of his speech (despite the contentious numbers on whether Africa gets less money than it pours out), but it speaks to me on so many levels and it sucker-punched me in the best way- in the way that I never saw it coming; I never expected it; but it smashed into me in a way that made me explode. I can’t ‘this!’ his speech enough. I recommend you read it.