Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On my mind: Harm Reduction

I've been thinking about harm reduction lately. I had a training with an organization I work for last weekend and we were asked how to facilitate a discussion on HIV prevention and education with youth who buy into an oppressive and stereotypical patriarchal ideology where men are more powerful and women less powerful. There was a lot of silence, and a lot of questions.

I started to think about harm reduction. We know harm reduction as "meeting people where they are at" and realizing that each person makes the best decision for them at that time in their life. Self-determination; agency as the feminists like to say. As an educator and activist, I choose to respect where people are as I hope others respect where I am at as we move through a situation or seek assistance or community.

I said that in such a situation where young people think, for example, that women should not have condoms because that's a man's responsibility, that harm reduction may not just be so far to the "left," that being progressive also can be meeting people where they are even if they are at the other/opposite end of the "left." You know, a similar argument that there are multiple forms of feminisms not just one form. Can there can be multiple forms of harm reduction not just one?

Now, I'm not one to do this often in my other forms of activism, but I do recognize that work within the HIV community and field, there are spaces that I am an outsider and the message will not be received by me in ways by insiders. I also realize that it may be possible to implement a harm reduction approach for someone who believes a male dominated society is the "right" society. If I am in front of a group that values that perspective, I think I may be able to meet them there and break down ideas of masculinity, what does it mean to be a provider, what kind of stress that puts on young boys and men? How does this intersect with HIV risk and decreasing such risks?

Can harm reduction work in that way too? Or are we keeping harm reduction as one specific form of activism and work? I really want to know what others think.

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