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LIVE from the 4th Africa Conference on SRHR

Sexuality Conference

Hey Pleasure-verse! I’m writing to you live from the 4th African Conference on Sexual Health & Rights: Sexuality, HIV & AIDS in Africa. The conference has just opened in Addis, and you can tell people are ready to get down to the real work in the coming days. Here’s a bit of a report from the opening evening…

The conference started off today with the opening ceremony and reception. As you might expect, these were a bit on the high-level and dry side.  It was notable that both the President and Minister of Health from Ethiopia were there, and they, along with the other speakers were far more open than I expected.

It was clear that pleasure and sex-positivity were the hot topics, and gay people were out. Everyone, including, impressively, the MoH, mentioned that we should stop viewing sexuality negatively and take a realistic approach. They even managed to mention unsafe abortion, and comprehensive sexuality education for youth. The President said we should stop “discriminating against young people by believing that they should only practice abstinence until marriage which is an unrealistic expectation.”

Still, the only person to mention anything remotely in the neighborhood of homosexuality was Gill Greer (IPPF) who said that we should beware of “restrictive laws about sexual identity, which may be some of the last remnants of colonial rule” and reinforce silence and stigma. I thought this was an interesting way to frame the issue. Someone else mentioned something about addressing “multiple sexualities”, but this was only in passing. So, the focus is clear. (Gill also mentioned that “sex occurs 125 million times a day…” interesting, in an Amelie kind of way.)

Also, there was plenty of discussion about men, masculinities, and male involvement. I’m not confident that this was progressive discussion… it seems to always run the risk of reinforcing norms instead of challenging them.

So, we’ll see how the messages emerge as the conference goes on. I’m happy to see the discussion of rights, integration, HIV + SRHR, gender, and positive sexuality (and hey, even the recognition that sexuality itself is worth studying and working on). It is clear that this meeting takes place in the context of the MDGs… but was nice to hear several people (including the President and MoH) bring back ICPD.

I’ll keep you posted as the week goes on…