Law, Science, and Social Movements: How Feminists Altered the AIDS Response

Aziza Ahmed, LAPA Fellow; Northeastern University School of Law

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 4:30pm
NEW LOCATION: 300 Wallace Hall
Event Category: 

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Abstract:  "Today, AIDS is thought of as a disease that impacts women in large numbers.  How did a virus once problematically associated with gay men from the global north come to be “feminized” and associated with women from the global south? My paper argues that feminist advocates fundamentally altered the legal and scientific response to the epidemic by changing conceptions of who was at risk of contracting HIV. Despite what experts said about women’s negligible risk, feminist activists knew that women were contracting and dying of HIV.  Beginning in the late 1980s, a new branch of the feminist women’s health movement (FWHM) mobilized in response.  This movement borrowed tactics from successful reproductive rights and AIDS organizing to draw attention to a growing epidemic among women. They demanded recognition in multiple registers: on the streets, in courthouses, and in U.S. administrative agencies, at the U.S. State Department, and in international human rights law.  They were successful. Women were deemed at risk of contracting HIV.  This feminist victory fundamentally changed the legal response to the epidemic -- driving resources and attention towards a previously hidden epidemic.  And, perhaps most remarkably, women came to be seen as more biologically vulnerable to HIV than men.  This project both celebrates and critically interrogates the transformative role of feminists in the AIDS response."

Aziza Ahmed
LAPA Fellow
Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

Aziza Ahmed is an internationally renowned expert in health law, criminal law, reproductive rights, and human rights. Her scholarship examines the role of science and activism in shaping global and national health law and policy. She teaches courses in Property Law, Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights, and International Health Law. Prior to joining Northeastern, Professor Ahmed was a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health Program on International Health and Human Rights. She came to that position after a fellowship in Women’s Law and Public Policy with the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS.  Professor Ahmed frequently serves as an expert for various UN agencies. She was a member of the Technical Advisory Group on HIV and the Law convened by the United Nations Development Programme from 2009-2012.  She received her B.A. from Emory University, an S.M. from Harvard School of Public Health, and a J.D. from University of California, Berkeley School of Law. At LAPA, Ahmed is working on a book project examining the role of law, science, and feminism in the response to AIDS.

Melissa Murray
Alexander F. And May T. Morrison Professor of Law; Faculty Director, Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice
University of California-Berkeley Law

Melissa Murray joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2006.  Her research focuses on the roles that criminal law and family law play in articulating the legal parameters of intimate life, and encompasses such topics as marriage and its alternatives, the legal regulation of sex and sexuality, the marriage equality debate, and reproductive rights and justice. Her publications have appeared (or are forthcoming) in the California Law ReviewColumbia Law ReviewMichigan Law ReviewPennsylvania Law ReviewVirginia Law Review, and Yale Law Journal, among others. She is the co-author (with K. Luker) of Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice, the first casebook in the field of reproductive rights and justice. In 2013, Murray’s article, “What’s So New About the New Illegitimacy?,” was awarded the Dukeminier Awards’ Michael Cunningham Prize as one of the best sexual orientation and gender identity law review articles of 2012. Her article, “Marriage as Punishment,” won the Association of American Law Schools’ 2010-2011 Scholarly Papers Competition for faculty members with fewer than five years of law teaching. “Marriage as Punishment” was also selected by the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Women in Legal Education as a winner of the 2010-2011 New Voices in Gender Studies scholarly paper competition. In 2010, Murray was awarded the Association of American Law School’s Derrick A. Bell Award, which is given to a junior faculty member who has made an extraordinary contribution to legal education, the legal system, or social justice. In 2011, Murray is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar and an Echols Scholar, and Yale Law School, where she was notes development editor of the Yale Law Journal. While in law school, she earned special recognition as an NAACP-LDF/Shearman & Sterling Scholar and was a semifinalist of Morris Tyler Moot Court. Following law school, Murray clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, then of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and Stefan Underhill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Murray is a member of the New York bar.