Melissa Browning presented "HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic" paper at Loyola today. I had made good progress on my sermon and so I went. It was a small group gathered to hear her presentation of the paper.
The paper offers a critique of both abstinence and condom based programs designed to prevent aids, with attention given to abstinence as both a moral category and prevention program. She argued that abstinence especially in the African context in which mere emphasis on abstinence becomes a confluence of things that include prevention of aids, moral prohibition and thus tied to purity and taboo create an imoral situation especially when women have no or limited agency due to cultural issues and legal standing. However she also argued that she offered up a veiw of abstinence that could be a moral stance. This view of abstinence is based on space rather than as prohibition. To explore abstinence as space she used the Song of Songs to explore how abstinence could be empowering and create space for self knowledge for women and African Women in particular.
The discussion following focused on what might follow from this paper for African women, for Melissa and missionaries from developing countries and African Women who have been empowered but who do not live in Africa but abraod and have been in part empowered through their cross cultural position as Africans in the US. Questions of the ways in which poverty rather than sexuality or sexual behavior contribute to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, as well as how so much communication about AIDS in Africa even that which attempts to offer treatment as well as programs of prevention follow colonial patterns of cultural imperialism and that even the language of AIDS is language imposed from others and not taken up from with in African cultural and linguistic matrices. This was also a point discussed in the paper itself in evaluating certain campaigns for the prevention of aids seeking to alter behavior.
The presentation and discussion impacted me in pushing me to further question the ways in which we attempt to offer monolithic solutions to issues or perceived problems, with out reflecting on meaning. Even our reactions say to abstinence in general are often knee jerk either in support or opposition. It seems to me that the approach in Melissa's paper is one that is needed in a variety of areas perhaps especially where moral and ethical considerations are used to bring about certain desired societal or governmental ends.
Well, I think i Have more thoughts on this but I think they will need to wait, must get back to Sunday's sermon.