International day focuses on AIDS’ impact on women

As students hurried through the Vari Hall rotunda on March 8 – International Women’s Day – they were met with a haunting sight: figures wearing white masks and T-shirts which read "HIV-positive" standing together in a silent vigil.

Right: Spreading awareness about AIDS

HIV/AIDs is a faceless disease that doesn’t  discriminate. It affects males and females, adults and children. Of 40 million people infected with the HIV virus, more than half are women, which is why organizers chose to focus on AIDS for International Women’s Day at York.

In Vari Hall, event volunteers handed out literature and invited students passing through to don a mask and T-shirt to show their support. "The most important thing we’re trying to do today is get information out about this disease," said volunteer Azzi Momen, a psychology student. "If we make students aware, then they can start to do their part and spread the word."

This year, International Women’s Day celebrated its 30th anniversary. However, this was York’s first year getting involved in the event, after a class of students decided that it was about time someone spread the word to the York community. Students from Lisa Rosenberg’s Violence Against Women course spent months organizing the event. "We were always talking about it, but we decided that we needed to actually do something," said fourth-year sociology student Michelle Vandyk.

"We want to make the York community aware that these are issues that are important to women everywhere," said Rosenberg, hoping that International Women’s Day will become an annual event at York.

Left: Clockwise from top left, Chanel Ramai, Prof. Lisa Rosenberg, Michelle Vandyk and Chanelle Watkins, volunteers with SAVAW

In Vari Hall, members of Students Against Violence Against Women (SAVAW) were also handing out literature. One in four women in Canada are in an abusive relationship, and SAVAW wanted to raise awareness about this growing problem.

"Today, women even came up to me and asked ‘I’m in an abusive relationship; what should I do?’," said Rosenberg.

SAVAW volunteers were also selling bookmarks, raffle tickets and buttons, and accepting donations for the December 6 Foundation. The charity provides women with interest-free loans to overcome financial barriers that might prevent them from leaving abusive relationships. In three days, they raised over $800.

Story and photos by Bethany Hansraj, a student assistant in York’s Marketing & Communications Division