This paper is a feminist reading of HIV activism in South Africa, of a social movement that does not describe itself as a women’s movement: it advocates both women’s and men’s, trans, hetero- and homosexual peoples’ rights for adequate health care and antiretroviral medication. Like many others, Chandra Talpade Mohanty suggests that today’s powerful feminism is found in anti-globalization movements that do not necessarily call themselves feminist. These critiques maintain that the theory, critique and activism of grass-root women across the globe, for example around anti-globalization, should also inform academic feminist discussions. This article studies discourses on HIV in Africa by contrasting the politics of the Treatment Action Campaign, a South African activist movement, with social science research literature on HIV in Africa. The contextual and political dimension of the illness is a central feature in activist discourses, a feature that can be described as inherently feminist. The representations of HIV/AIDS in Africa and the policies these imply are strikingly different in the activist and academic discourses. We argue that activists’ political orientation and the consequent anti-individualism are key dividing features that lead the activist and research discourses down divergent paths. In contrast, HIV research inhabits a de-politicized and individualizing tendency.

Author Biography

Katarina Jungar, Researcher at the Department of Women’s Studies at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. She is interested in issues around health and Women’s Movements. Her PhD (forthcoming 2010) is an ethnographical study of the Treatment Action Campaign. She has been involved in (Women’s) Activism in Finland and South Africa.

Elina Oinas, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Turku, Finland, and Affiliated Professor in Women’s Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Her research interests are embodiment and health among girls in Northern Europe and Southern Africa, and re-thinking controversial concepts like “medicalisation” and “empowerment.” She has worked in projects funded by the Academy of Finland and at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. 2007-2009 she has acted as one of the editors for NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist & Gender Research.