Opening speech at Global Village, AIDS 2018, by Reina Foppen

Reina Foppen, medewerker Community netwerk Hiv Vereniging, tijdens haar openingsspeech in de Global Village: Good evening to you all. Welcome, World, to our small country. You are presently below sea level, and we are so lucky to still have dry feet! The sea level has already risen compared to 1992, when the previous Amsterdam conference was held.

If there is to be another conference in Amsterdam 26 years from now, the requirement for a visa will be that you are a good swimmer and you have to bring your own rubber boat. But hey, let’s get this thing out of the world by 2030! Or we need to swim our way out of Amsterdam!

Welcome to the Global Village, you, people from all over world: young people, women, transgender people, people from any other key populations and … people that can not be put in any box. We are many in this community of people living with HIV. And each year, sadly, many join this community, and that must stop. We make a lot of noise. Yet HIV and AIDS are far from over, and each year, there is less money, less attention and less focus on our shared goal to stop AIDS by 2030. We need money in that Global Fund. We need political will to put this money where it is effective. And we, the people living with HIV, need to be part of that decision making. And this is where opportunities like the Global Village come in.

Meaningful involvement of people living with HIV has to be a key priority in this system. We need to sit at that table! We need to have influence in policy making. And we need create a future that supports ALL of us.

In the past, we proved that we can organize. And what you see here at the Global Village is proof of that. We proved that we enforce change. Let us prove that we can do it again!

When I was young, I was fascinated by the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. The ancient Persians were joining forces to build a tower as high as heaven. It was way before the time of the skyscrapers in hyper-modern Asian cities, and these indeed have their rooftops in the clouds. Of smog mostly.

The tower of Babel intrigued me because of the so called “plague” that was called upon it. Suddenly everyone started to talk in different languages. I love languages. I learned to speak seven different languages, but still I feel lost very often. For example, I do not speak Russian. And this would have come in very handy this week. But hey, one is never too old to learn! Because of the so called “plague”, the builders in Babel could not understand each other and the construction failed – it all went to the dogs.

And that is exactly the risk we, as civil society, run at the moment. Our individual messages are urgent and are becoming more urgent with time. Transgender people and sex workers are being killed.Homophobia is an accepted political trend. Child marriage is not abolished. Drug use, sex work and HIV are being increasingly criminalized.

We need intersectionality.We need to work together. And we need to speak each other’s message in order to be properly heard as a person, as a community, as a whole!

We have to be aware of our privileges, and we must use those privileges to claim attention for messages that must be heard. We are so privileged to be here in the Global Village, but there are countless others who can not be here. We need to build bridges from the Global Village to our communities, and we need to do this together and speak as one voice.

Otherwise, individual messages will be lost and the only thing we produce is a non-articulated noise. For example, U=U is very good news. The fact that people who are on effective treatment cannot pass HIV on is groundbreaking, but let us use that groundbreaking news to demonstrate the need to get everyone on effective treatment, the need for access to healthcare, and the need for basic human rights.

In two weeks’ time, there will be Amsterdam Pride: 80 boats populated with predominantly white gay men who celebrate diversity. I want them to be proud, but I want them to also BE FURIOUS on behalf of our brothers and sisters whose lives are in constant danger, and to demand equal rights for them!

So, civil society present here at the Global Village, be curious this week while the World is here. Be eager to get to know each other’s reality! Talk with each other. Get someone to translate for you (such a shame I do not speak Russian!). Inform yourself about forced migration. Inform yourself about criminalization of HIV, and drug use. Inform yourself about sex work, about inequality of women and girls, about how LGBTQA+ people have to hide themselves. Get a real feel of what exclusion from healthcare implies. And get bloody angry!

And then, when you speak, speak on behalf of all of us. Do not judge and exclude because you want your message to be heard.

Be inclusive and stay curious! We need to work together. We need to build bridges and cross them in order to walk towards ZERO together.

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