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~ Cultures of Violence
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"We must address power imbalances in every single policy, strategy and programme related to prevention, treatment and care, if we seriously want to tackle this global challenge. It is not simply a matter of justice and fairness. In this case, gender inequality is fatal."

- Noeleen Heyzer, Executive director for Unifem

INTERSECT has been created to find new and innovative ways of addressing HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and the social ills that allow these co-epidemics to flourish so relentlessly across the global landscape. I am a writer and an activist both of which give me great joy and the freedom to express myself. Over the years it has been my privilege to join those working to change the social environment in which such injustices thrive.

I was drafted into the AIDS Movement in the early nineteen eighties when friends and colleagues in the performing and visual arts came down with a mysterious illness.  Workshops I facilitated and a series of trainings I had designed about creativity at the Actors Institute where I worked, were easily adapted to fit the circumstances.  After all, what could require more creativity than facing your mortality? The workshops were called The AIDS Mastery Workshops. By Mastery I mean simply that the difficult circumstances of our lives do not define us, they become content in the whole context of our lives. In other words, you have AIDS. It doesn't have you.

Two friends, Victor Phillips, his life partner Chuck Baier, (both died of AIDS many years ago) and I founded Northern Lights Alternatives, an international network of AIDS agencies to support the work.  Victor was from Montana. He said that when he was a little boy watching the beautiful display of light that plays over the northern skies of the planet he had thought they were a real miracle, and that even as an adult, knowing the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis was a result of natural occurrences, his wonder never diminished. Well, that's how I feel about people with AIDS and those impacted by HIV/AIDS in a myriad of ways.  This community of creative people, working to master their challenges does so as a matter of course, of growth, sometimes survival. It is a natural occurrence; nonetheless it has always seemed and remains today, miraculous to me. The human spirit is one of our greatest awe-inspiring gifts.

As the years rolled by more and more women came into the workshops that were, by the late eighties, being done in over thirty cities in the US, UK and Canada, and with them came their stories. Personal stories had always been a powerful piece of the work, but these women presented a certain theme of their own. Violence. Many of these women had never told their stories before. They had never talked about the violence they endured in childhood, or the violent episode of their infection or the rapes they survived, or the brutality they suffered from those who were prejudiced against them because of their condition. For those who worked in the sex trade or those who were remanded to drug treatment and then to the workshop through the courts, life was particularly perilous.

I longed to do something to address this violence. Then along came "The Vagina Monologues," which impacted audiences in ways I had never seen before, so when its playwright Eve Ensler wanted to use it to do something to end violence I came on board to exercise latent theater skills and Produce benefit performances of the play for V-Day, the organization that Eve founded to raise awareness about violence against women and raise money to support groups working in the field. I played many roles in V-Day including Director, event producer and creator of their Worldwide Initiative (now the Worldwide Campaign), but never was able to leave AIDS work or AIDS activism behind.  It was with a seed grant from V-Day that I was able to start up INTERSECT, brining both HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women and Girls into the proximity that reflects their reality.

INTERSECT began in South Africa. Two statistics about women there caught my attention: One in five South African Women can expect to be raped. And 40% of those raped can expect to be infected. The urgency of the situation there called to me as did the serendipitous appearance of people who knew someone working in the field from South Africa, had worked in South Africa, had a best friend with AIDS in South Africa, came from South Africa and knew everybody, or who like Betsi Pendri, Founder of the Living Together Project there and instrumental in initially setting things up for me, lived in both places. Suddenly I started meeting South Africans at UN and other conferences, in my travels and at parties. I already had friends in India working in related movements so one thing led to another, and then another, and then another, the results of which are revealed in the following pages of this website where you can learn how to get involved with an Intersect Coalition, start one, or become otherwise involved in making your world a safer and saner place.

Thank you ~ Sally Fisher

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