Human Rights Activism: End of the Year Reflection

25 Dec


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#FightStigma is a campaign that was started by students at Duke University involved with Know Your Status, an HIV testing and education group dedicated to providing free HIV testing to individuals on academic campuses in Durham, NC

@RachSafeekFollowing the incident with Justine Sacco, we should use #HasJustineLandedYet as an opportunity to educate about #HIV/ #AIDS & prevent future insensitivity https://bluedevilbanter.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/a-little-lesson-in-hiv-101/ …

This past week, former PR executive, Justine Sacco, was fired after posting a tweet connecting HIV transmission to race in South Africa. The tweet, which was posted by Sacco to her twitter while waiting to board a twelve hour flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa, was deemed insensitive and racist by twitter audiences, prompting an uproar among HIV/AIDS and human rights activists in the Twitter community. Airborne and without internet access, Sacco remained unaware of the frenzy that was occurring on social media sites in response to her tweet. The most notable response included the generation of the hashtag “#HasJustineLandedYet” to host discussion around the infamous post. Upon her arrival in Cape Town, a newly-unemployed Sacco was greeted by a crowd of journalists and angry activists demanding an explanation.

Whether a poorly executed joke or a genuinely crude display of carelessness, the callous nature of Sacco’s tweet comes as a disappointment to many. Such frivolity from a PR exec, REALLY? At least one thing of which we can all remain assured is society’s willingness to address overt instances of social injustice. Hence, the thousands of Twitter viewers who were quick to denounce Sacco’s behavior, albeit via 140 characters or less.

Another recent human rights victory related to health and HIV prevention comes in a different form: The Ruling of Canada’s Supreme Court to Strike Down Anti-Prostitution Laws. Having worked with female sex worker populations in the past, the issue of decriminalization and regulation of sex work is one that I am particularly invested in. This past week, Canada’s highest court passed a ruling that condemned the nation’s anti-prostitution laws, arguing that such laws endanger individuals within the profession, ignoring the health-related risks of the trade.

Finally, another recent personal victory comes from my own work with HIV and human rights-related causes on World AIDS Day 2013. December 1 (World AIDS Day) always marks an important day for anyone committed to work with HIV.

Last year, while working with Know Your Status, an HIV testing organization run by Duke University students, I spearheaded an HIV testing and launched a photo campaign entitled #FightStigma”, along with the amazing photographer and my former classmate, Shayan Asadi. (More pictures here.)  Every year, I take some time to reflect on the events from World AIDS Day. Last year’s reflection was actually a Facebook post turned very short blog posting:

“Today is World AIDS Day! Exactly one year ago, I spent this day testing for HIV and educating about the disease with female sex workers in Salvador, Brasil. It was the most meaningful experience I had until that time, and I never thought I could make a difference in the same way. One year later with Know Your Status, we (a group of 20+ Duke students) have managed to test hundreds of students and Durham residents over the course of one semester…It makes me so incredibly proud and inspired to see so many college students invested in a cause, whether political advocacy or human rights activism, I am so honored to be a part of a college campus with such progressive enthusiasm.”

Fight Stigma is a campaign that was started by students at Duke University involved with Know Your Status, a volunteer group dedicated to providing free HIV testing to students in Durham, NC

Fight Stigma is a campaign that was started by students at Duke University involved with Know Your Status, a volunteer group dedicated to providing free HIV testing to students in Durham, NC

One year later, I’m still continuing my work with HIV prevention as an HIV Education Specialist, researcher, and, of course, blogger. I spent the majority of the first week of December (unofficially deemed “HIV /AIDS Awareness Week”) engaging in various outreach events throughout my community, including helping to launch an HIV testing marathon event, entitled “#LoveSafely” and a panel discussion about “Caring for HIV/AIDS Patients in the United States”.  Check out the details below:

HIV/AIDS Awareness Week

HIV/AIDS Awareness Week

HIV Testing Marathon

HIV Testing Marathon

We tested over 65 people in just a few short hours, and I did a few of those tests in Spanish. Over the course of the week, over 100 tests were administered. The successes of these events, coupled with the very fulfilling research/outreach I do leading up to December truly make this season the most wonderful time of the year.

Email me at rachel.safeek@duke.edu

-Rachel Safeek

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