Water as a Women’s Issue


Sudanese residents pump water from a well in their village in the South Kordofan region. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

On my desk, next to my laptop, is a can of seltzer water. My grapefruit-flavored, bubbly water sits about four inches away from my left hand as I write. When the can is empty, I might take another from the fridge or fill up a water bottle at the kitchen sink. 

Water drives my day, but I rarely think about it. I cook pasta in it. I heat water to make tea. I fill a bucket to mop the floor and a draw a bath with hot water and soak in it. At the moment, my dishwasher is growling away, and I’m waiting to hear the pleasant beep that alerts me that the clothes in the washer downstairs are clean. 

I’ve never considered water a women’s issue. Not until this past week, that is. On Friday, the day before World AIDS Day 2012, I had the privilege of attending World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World luncheon in New York City. Strong Women, Strong World is a new initiative “supporting sustainable change in some of the difficult places in the world to be a girl or a woman.” The focus of the day was water. 

The Honorable Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador at-large for Global Women’s Issues, spoke at the event. She celebrated the progress humanitarian organizations such as World Vision have made in the effort to eradicate HIV/AIDS, but reminded us that the number of people living with HIV is at an all-time high. In 2010, HIV/AIDS killed 1.8 million people. Sixty percent of those living with HIV are girls and women, and AIDS is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age (15-44 years old) globally. 

“HIV,” Ambassador Verveer said, “has the face of a woman.”

Celebrating the Miraculous on World AIDS Day

Drummers and dancers perform songs to educate a community about HIV and AIDS in Zambia.

As people of faith, it is not uncommon to pray for miracles when faced with overwhelming obstacles. For many of us, AIDS has been one of those mind-boggling, heart-wrenching causes that has wreaked havoc on the world and been the subject of many prayers. 

Since the early days of the disease, the focus has been on a cure. Researchers worked tirelessly for it and the faithful asked God to provide it. But the cure has never come.

And yet, as we mark another AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1, there is evidence of the miraculous. 

After 24 years of commemorating this day with grim statistics and little hope, there is finally good news. 

Millions of people are receiving treatment. Many fewer people are dying.

The new infection rate has dropped by 50 percent or more in 25 countries since 2001. With access to treatment, being HIV-positive is now considered a chronic disease, not a fatal one.

The Fiscal Cliff: Mommas Said Knock You Out

A mother and her 18-month-old child stand with a health care worker at a clinic in rural Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

By the time President Obama walked off the stage at Chicago’s McCormick Place after delivering his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, pundits already were screaming HERE COMES THE FISCAL CLIFF!

And while it might have been a nice idea to take a collective breath after such a divisive election season before new screeching began, the pundits were not wrong.

Be warned: The Fiscal Cliff approaches. On Jan. 2, 2013, to be exact.

Now, I am many things, but an economist (or even a person remotely comfortable with numbers) is not one of them. So let me explain to those of you who are like me, in the simplest terms possible, what this proverbial cliff is all about.

In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis last summer, Congress and President Obama agreed to enter into negotiations to enact a 10-year deficit reduction package in excess of $1.2 trillion.

If an agreement could not be reached, a mandatory, across-the-board reduction in spending (also known as “sequester” or “sequestration”) would occur. All discretionary and entitlement spending -- with a few exceptions -- would be subject to sequestration....

Under sequestration, the U.S. foreign aid that has made such a tremendous difference in Ethiopia and in the lives of countless millions of desperately poor Africans (and others) is in grave jeopardy.

Kenyan Churches Claim Herbs Threaten HIV/AIDS Patients

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Church leaders are pressing the Kenyan government to scientifically test herbal medicines that are used by millions to manage and treat diseases, saying the nontraditional therapies could be putting patients' health at risk.

The leaders say HIV/AIDS patients and others suffering chronic conditions are widely using the medicines, whose efficacy is unknown.

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

In 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Africa for the first time.

That trip took me to Kenya, Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, and Malawi.

And that trip changed me — heart, mind, soul — forever transforming my family and my world.

Today, five years almost to the day since I flew to Nairobi to begin my first African adventure, I'm sitting in the international terminal of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., waiting to board a 787 Dreamliner bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

An adventure lies ahead. And yet, so much more than that.

I've been to Africa twice now (this is my third visit to continent), and each time the people I've met and experiences I've had on the journey — all of it dripping with a grace so palpable I could almost smell it like so much sandalwood smoke wafting from an incenser — have shaped me and recalibrated my spirit.

I don't know specifically what Ethiopia has in store for me, but I am sure of one thing: The Spirit will be there.

Transgender Killings Reflect Deeper Injustice

Glynnis Jones /

Photo: Glynnis Jones /

For the second time in Chicago this year, the life of a gender-variant young person of color was lost to violence.

Donta Gooden’s body was found in an abandoned building on the city’s West Side late in the evening of August 14th. Gooden, 19, who also went by the name “Tiffany,” was stabbed to death just three blocks from where Paige Clay, a 23 year-old transgender woman, was shot and killed in April, according to media reports. The police investigation is ongoing.

The tragedy of these senseless killings, still so raw and heartrending for the loved ones of Gooden and Clay, is beyond comprehension and deplorable on every level. But perhaps even more unsettling is how often violent crimes against LGBTQ people occur and how little social outrage they ignite.

For many, these two terrible tragedies may melt into the background in a year when Chicago is scrambling to stem a rising tide of murder across the city (year -to-date homicides are up 25 percent from August 2011 according to data compiled by the Redeye. However, they are part of an alarming trend of violence targeting LGBTQ people of color – and transgender and gender-variant people of color in particular – which directly intersects with the front lines of the HIV epidemic.

On Africa Visit, Clinton Focuses On Tackling AIDS

From The Washington Post:

If this small nation, with a per capita income of less than $3 a day and a life expectancy of 53, offers a hopeful model for fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa, then large and relatively prosperous Uganda shows how quickly progress can run off track.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw Malawi’s more promising example Sunday as part of an eight-nation African visit. Last week in Uganda, she highlighted an alarming rise in infection rates there after years when the country was a leader in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. About 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are believed infected, and the United Nations has estimated that the region had 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2010.

Read more here

Achieving an AIDS-free Generation by Healing the International Village

HIV / AIDS icon illustration, Cienpies Design /

HIV / AIDS icon illustration, Cienpies Design /

I wonder what would happen if the daily barrage of negative, misleading political campaign ads were replaced just for a day by a one-minute clip from the opening ceremony of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., last week.  

This replacement ad would feature a beautiful, regal woman from Nigeria sharing a heartfelt and poignant ‘thank you’ to the American people for literally saving her life by providing access to antiretroviral drugs — medicine that creates a modern-day “Lazarus effect” in people whose immune systems have been ravaged by AIDS — and also ensures that her daughter was born HIV-free. I wish every member of Congress could have heard these words, a ‘thank you’ that echoes what many nations in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing as they work to turn the tide of this deadly disease.  

This one mother and child from Nigeria are only a snapshot of the millions of lives that have been transformed by American generosity and leadership through life-saving investments in the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — which have increased the number of Africans on treatment from a shameful 50,000 in 2002 to more than 4 million today. 

Interfaith Prayer Room Welcomes Worshippers at AIDS 2012

Photo courtesy Jon Pattee

Photo courtesy Jon Pattee

It’s a rare place of worship where Muslims and Baha’is both congregate, and where prayer rugs share space with a silver cross, religious pamphlets on healing in Hebrew, and a bright scarlet AIDS bow. But on Wednesday afternoon, that was the scene at the Interfaith Prayer Room of the AIDS 2012 conference.

“This room is designed for Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Baha’is — for anyone who needs to find a place for quiet and prayer, and counseling, if necessary,” said Imam Dr. Abdul-Malik Ali, who just finished leading prayers beside a broad banner reading “Faith in Action — End Stigma Now.”

A sign in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic welcomed worshippers to the carpeted prayer room.  Double doors cut the clamor of thousands of convention-goers to a murmur, so that inside, even the faintest clicking of the ventilation system was audible. To complete the contrast with the outside’s roar and bustle, the air was cool and the lights were gently dimmed.