Letters to Eureka Street

Absent bodies

‘Muslims & Christians ... where do we stand?’ (Eureka Street, September 2003) missed the quintessential point that Muslims and Catholics/Christians stand (yes so, still so) greatly divided by gender.

Sitting in the audience of this Jesuit Seminar Series I wondered how the religion and politics of the body could be ignored. Our patriarchal institutions have been tyrannised by fear of female sexuality since their inception. Why was the ignominy shared by Muslim and Catholic women denied ordination to the priesthood or to becoming an imam disregarded? Why were oppression, inequality, human rights and sharia law not defined in terms of their application in the lives of Muslim women? And that the enforced wearing of the hijab or burka, notwithstanding rationalisations, is to control sexual desire? And genital mutilation? An obscene and unforgivable abuse of human rights perpetrated to destroy female sexual pleasure. Girl births mourned in many Muslim societies, women blamed for rape, adultery, and so on.
The seminar kept our religious  differences and similarities intellectual, gentlemanly and academic, in the head and out of the body. Kept it safe, kept it cosy and kept well away from the facts about where Muslim and Catholic women do stand.

Kerry Bergin
Camberwell, VIC

Keeping up the fight

Congratulations to Paul Sendziuk on his excellent coverage of the history of HIV/AIDS in Australia. ‘Denying the Grim Reaper’ (Eureka Street, October 2003) identifies the issues that people infected with HIV, as well as communities in which the virus is prevalent, have had to face in the past 20 years. Sadly, today many of these issues are still current.

In Victoria the annual number of AIDS diagnoses peaked at 203 in 1994 and fell to 44 in 2001. However the number of people contracting the HIV virus has increased in recent years. In 2001, 218 people were diagnosed with HIV, the highest annual number of notifications since 1994 and the number continued to rise in 2002 (234 notifications). This causes real concern and consternation amongst many with the illness as well as those who are aware that education and awareness around HIV/AIDS remains an important focus for the whole community. Yet the message seems lost on many young people and those faced with making choices that may put them at risk.

People who come to Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry talk of:

• The prejudice and stigma that they still face as well as their very real fear that friends, neighbours and/or work colleagues will discover their status and ‘drop’ them.
• The burden of having to be secretive about their illness and situation.
• The struggle with poverty, loneliness and alienation.
• Finding suitable housing in an area where they will not experience prejudice and ignorance.
• Finding sustainable employment with employers who understand the nature and circumstances affecting the individual.
• The side effects and complications of their medication.
• The tension between the desire to work and the stress of dealing with pressure in the workforce, pressure to perform and pressure to keep one’s status private.
• Agencies that have been established to help people with HIV/AIDS are becoming fatigued and beginning to lose sight of the human face and suffering of those whom they are there to help.
• Being so fortunate to live in Australia
as compared to the situation in other countries.
• Respite care being under pressure and strain to provide for those who need the extraordinary care of this unique facility.
• Quality of life for many people with HIV/AIDS has improved remarkably because of the extensive services and supports that are offered.
• A desire to see that stakeholders and partners associated with HIV/AIDS continue to work progressively to improve and address together key concerns, issues, initiatives and ideas.
• Encouraging new stakeholders and partners that may be able to assist to become involved in seeking further positive initiatives, funding, assistance for responses that may be helpful for other countries who are not as fortunate as Australia.
• Encouraging the community to become aware that HIV/AIDS is not discriminating in age, sex or gender and has real ramifications for Australia and the world if we ignore it.

One man talked of these issues and then very eloquently spoke of the ‘depression’ which haunts him in life’s quieter moments, the depression which says ‘I have a terminal illness and I know how I am going to die’. Another person says, ‘it never, ever goes away’, and she may live for another 20 years knowing the medication she is taking is both keeping her alive and likely killing her.

It seems that the challenges facing the Australian community when HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed are the challenges that continue to face the community. These challenges are not limited to the communities most closely associated with HIV/AIDS but the whole Australian community, for we are diminished as
people when we are unable to respond compassionately to those in need.

Marg Hayes (Coordinator) and Anthony Nestor
Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry
Melbourne, VIC

Moved by the spirit

The next pope, like all popes, will be elected under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; but famously the Holy Spirit’s ways are not ours so His preference is often difficult to make out (even for cardinals).
To overcome this difficulty the Vatican effectively fills the conclave well in advance with cardinals of the current pope’s own theological stamp.

This makes it easier to see what kind of pope the Holy Spirit has in mind.

John F. Haughey
Carlton, VIC



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