Girl Posi+ive, the movie screened by Women’s Media Watch Jamaica (WMWJ) recently aimed to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its relationship to gender.
While it did a great job in exploring issues relating to HIV and AIDS it failed to truly explore the gender issues.
Held at the Fitz Henley Conference Centre on Cecelio Avenue in Kingston earlier in December, the event was part of a special project funded by Jamaica Self-Help (Canada ).
Under the Title: HIV and Gender Relations – “Utilizing the power in me”, the film screening of Girl Positive promised to allow participants to explore the links between sexuality, gender norms and expectation; issues of power and control in safe sex practices and HIV/AIDS; and peer pressure which encourages multiple partners and unsafe sex.
With specific reference to challenges in Jamaica, the WWMJ also aimed to focus on the problem of gender stereotyping, gender-based violence and the role of the media and popular culture in shaping attitudes and behaviour.
The aims were however not fully achieved as the movie did not live up to its objective of shedding light on such gender issues.
Girl Posi+tive, however, is an excellent treatment of the fears which come upon the individual before, during and after the experience of a positive HIV/AIDs diagnosis. It also brilliantly discusses how the diagnosis impacts the relationships between sexual partners, between potential life partners and between parent and child.
The movie also graphically illustrates the fact that half of all new HIV infections occur in people under age 25 and that, within the schools and other closed populations, it takes only one person to spread the disease as they change partners and create a multiplier effect.
The issue of discrimination was also a significant theme. Patricia Donaldson, a founding member of WWMD and director of the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS said in the discussion period at the screening that the stigma and discrimination attached to HIV/AIDS is more dangerous than the effects of the disease.
She encouraged the audience in attendance at the filming to do their part in dissipating negative massages and reducing stigma.
However, the ambitious agenda of discussing gender stereotypes was not tackled substantively in the movie.
In Girl Posi+tive, seventeen-year-old Rachel gets the shock of her life when an email in her inbox reveals that a former sexual partner, Jason, a popular athlete who died in a car crash, was an IV drug user and also HIV positive.
Wanting to learn more about HIV, Rachel is urged to visit the local AIDS clinic by a substitute teacher, Sarah, but is too scared to face up to the possibility that she may be infected.
Rachel confides her fears to Sarah, who reveals that she has been secretly living with HIV for more than seven years. A visit to a community clinic confirms her worse fears and the world as she knows it is shattered as her HIV status becomes fodder for the gossip mill.
By the end of the movie, many useful messages about the correct way in which HIV/AIDS is spread, how to avoid infection and what to do after a positive diagnosis are sent.
Girl Posi+ive consoles the young who have tested positive with the message that “with the correct use of medication, you can get married, have children and avoid infecting both your children and your partner if you are careful.’
The film also clearly reminds watchers that HIV affects everyone, not just the poor, as the school community in which the drama unfolded was a solidly middle class one.
For the Jamaican audience however, the film was culturally impoverished, failing to address powerful gender issues which are peculiar to our population.
The issue of poverty and how it affects the sexual choices which women of all ages make was not explored. The film also did not include a reference to gender based violence and how this articulates with HIV/AIDs as an issue relevant to Jamaican women.
The discussion period before the movie and during the break sought to discuss gender issues as it affects those infected with HIV/AIDs but, it was an artificial effort as the discussion was not supported by the theme of Girl Posi+ive. (Panos)
Avia Ustanny-Collinder, Freelance Writer