Author Archives: ninuccia

Meet Margherita Hack


Born at the corner of via Cento Stelle (hundred stars) in Florence, Margherita Hack was the first woman to lead an astronomical observatory in Italy. She is the most known Italian astrophysicist.

You have just turned 89. What is the biggest satisfaction you have had until now?
I don’t know what to say since I have had so many satisfactions with my job. Maybe when I won the chair of astronomy at the University of Trieste (1964). But then I have received many prizes and acknowledgments and right now I could not tell which one has given me the highest satisfaction. What I would say is that I have had many acknowledgments.

In your youth you have been long and high jump champion and afterwards you studied physics, activities both considered, especially then, not suitable for women.
No, it is not true. At the university we were five women and five men students. As far as sport is concerned, there was fascism then and under dictatorships sport is one of the things that are used the most for manoeuvring, for training young people, for making them more accommodating let’s say. Nevertheless the good thing is that sport was done at large scale, also in schools.

As for your physics studies, did you feel then that you were supported or rather hindered by the people around you?
My parents told me I had to do what I felt like the most and since I liked physics better than the other subjects it was natural for me to choose to do what I felt I was better at.

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“Being a macho kills”

Sociologist, Oscar Guasch teaches sexual criminology and Sociology of Sexuality at the University of Barcelona. His activity articulates around the identification and reconstruction of the discourses and practices of ‘power’, the origins and political uses of heterosexuality, the social consequences of AIDS and the masculine identities and homophobia, among others. At present he is carrying out an investigation on prostitution among men in Barcelona.

In your writings you criticize the hegemonic gay movement basically for accepting to be tolerated at the price of laminating its diversity and for being incapable of legitimizing and exporting the love among men to the whole group of them.

There exist social processes that are born to free people but with the time become normalizers. The feminist movements, for instance, start to free women but certain feminisms becomes ‘state feminism’ or marxisism, which is born to free the proletariat but certain Marxism becomes proletariat dictatorship and real socialism. The gay movement is born to fight homophobia but in the end a certain part of it says exactly how homosexual people have to be. If you are poor, old and homosexual you do not have social visibility.

Why did the hegemonic gay movement become normalizer?

For a collection of factors. The ‘pink peseta’, that is the fact the ghetto, which is never volunteer but a strategy of the subordinate groups to survive in an hostile environment, generates an important market of consumption. The political context, which in Spain has surely to do with the ‘zapaterism’, that is with an attempt of redefinition of the left wing starting from social policies of visibility that cost no money such as the law regulating the homosexual marriage.

The existence of certain gay leaders who have used the movement to promote themselves, something that happens everywhere. A certain need of many homosexual people to be accepted, to be able to say ‘I am normal too, I can get married’ and a lot of well versed homophobia by many homosexuals, the fact of being able to say ‘I am a correct homosexual, I am not promiscuous, I am not effeminate, I am not a queen’. All this has created a context where a certain archetypal model of ‘gay to imitate’ was produced.

The crisis will change this all. Spain has passed in the last 15 years from the sheep to the convertible. In the next future we will become a modest country and this is going to create many social problems for what to acceptation is concerned. A lot of people will be demanding authoritarianism and order and there will be social rage casted on immigrants, probably on the homosexuals and trans they will find close because it is very complicated for a society to have its social status diminished.

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On gender, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development

feng min kan

 “Gender equality in DRR does not mean merely addressing women’s
issues – it means addressing concerns of both men and women, the
relations between them and the root causes of gender imbalances”

Since 2005 Feng Min Kan (China) has been the Senior Coordinator for the Advocacy and Outreach Coordination Unit within the UNISDR (The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) secretariat in Geneva. In this position, she has fostered the idea that both gender equality and disaster risk reduction are imperative to achieve sustainable development.

One of the first things reported in “Making disaster risk reduction gender-sensitive” (published in 2009 by UNISDR, UNDP (UN Development Programme) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Geneva, 2009) is that “While women’s vulnerability to disasters is often highlighted, their role in fostering a culture of resilience and their active contribution to building it has not been adequately recognized”.

Disaster management has been traditionally considered as a men’s field. Women have not been really represented at policy and decision making level of disaster management, this also reflects the situation of women in disaster risk reduction at country level, therefore the gender perspective has not been really considered but the reality is that women bear a large proportion of population living in poverty. When people are poor they also live in the most vulnerable areas other people would not even think of living.

In a community for instance prone to the impact of floods, if most of the women do not have much formal education, also due to poverty, they won’t have real access to information nor will they probably understand what exactly the fact that a cyclone with a certain speed is coming implies. If they don’t, they cannot take actions to protect themselves and their families. In this kind of situation women are much more vulnerable than others.

The report also highlights physical and environmental vulnerabilities women face in many contexts. What are they?

In some cultures women are not supposed to learn to swim and climb for instance.

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Meet Mauro Cabral


Argentinian historian and philosopher and trans and intersex activist. Mauro Cabral is co-director of GATE (Global Action for Trans Equality) and member of the Latin American Consortium on Intersex Issues (Consorcio Latinoamericano de Trabajo sobre Intersexualidad).

Statistically, situations related to intersexuality have place in one over 2,500 births. Every time a child whose sexual and reproductive anatomy varies from both male and female bodily standards is born, his o her body is forced into surgical and hormonal treatments aimed to ‘normalize’ the appearance of his or her genitals. Among the international frameworks on Human Rights, at present only the not binding Yogyakarta Principles make a specific call for States “to ensure that no child’s body is irreversibly altered by medical procedures in an attempt to impose a gender identity without the full, free and informed consent of the child in accordance with the age and maturity of the child and guided by the principle that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”. in their article 18 on “Protection from Medical Abuses”

In what sense is intersex children’s genital mutilation a feminizing procedure?

The majority of the different interventions done to normalize intersex children’s bodies are addressed to create female genitals because from a medical point of view they are technologically easier to make than male genitals.

Is it also a political issue?

In medicine it is basically a technical issue which, from the intersex activism is remitted also to the running of stereotypes that have to do with the fact that sexuality and the male gender are intrinsically dependent on the existence of a functional penis and that it is therefore easier to become a woman than a man if there is not a male body sustaining such masculinity. However, the issue could be seen the other way around and think that masculinity is more fragile because it has more requirements… These are activist interpretations on decisions doctors make without them appearing in an explicit way.

According to the International intersex Organization (oii) the correct definition should not be children’s genital mutilation but non-consensual normalization treatment, a term that also includes hormonal therapy and virilising surgery. How do you see it?

They are rhetorical choices. Talking of mutilation has a stronger ethical political impact and allows connecting this intervention with other practices such as female genital mutilation.  Mutilation refers to something that cuts not only each person’s possibilities but also the possibilities that each culture has to recognize the body diversity of its members.

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On sexual and reproductive rights, Meet Jacqueline Sharpe


Jacqueline Sharpe is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist from Trinidad and Tobago and the president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global service provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights working in 150 countries. Its areas of action include abortion, access, adolescents, advocacy and AIDS/HIV.

Although there is an area of over-lap between them, sexual and reproductive rights are two separate issues.

Sexual rights include the right of all people to make free and responsible decisions about all aspects of their own sexuality, including deciding to be sexually active or not and protecting and promoting their reproductive and sexual health; The right to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence in one’s sexual life, and when making sexual decisions; The right to expect and demand equality, full consent, mutual respect and shared responsibility in all sexual relationships and to pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.

On the other side reproductive rights include the rights of couples and individuals to freely and responsibly decide the number, spacing and timing of their children; The right to have the information, education and means to make the above decisions; The right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health and the right to make decisions free from discrimination, coercion and violence.

Sexual and reproductive rights are included in international conventions such as CEDAW (see blogroll), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, and the Plan of Action which emerged from the International Conference on Population and Development (El Cairo, 1994).

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AIDS treatment in and out of gender

aids treat 2


“It is known that after acute HIV infection women present with higher CD4 counts and lower viral loads than men.  We were interested in looking at whether this difference influenced clinical outcomes.  It is debatable whether these sex differences confer clinical benefits and we hypothesized that they would”, says Elizabeth Connick. She works at the Department of Medicine, University of Colorado, Denver, Aurora, and is one of the authors of the study “Sex, Race and Geographic Region influence Clinical Outcomes Following Primary HIV-1 Infection”, recently published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.  She was involved since the beginning in the Acute Infection and Early Disease Research Program (AIEDRP) and was principal investigator at one of the sites of the program funded by the National Institute of Health. It was a multicenter, observational cohort of more than 2000 primarily North American individuals (26 sites in the US, 10 in Australia, 2 in Canada and one in Brazil) diagnosed with acute and recent HIV infection whose data were prospectively collected in a database.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to analyze the data base to answer that question.  When you look in a population of HIV positive people you don’t know how long somebody has been infected.  It is hard to know what stage they are in their disease and to judge whether men and women are progressing at different rates”.

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Meet Maria Lai

maria lai

“We exist in as much as the others interpret us”

In spite of having always been in poor health Maria Lai, at almost one hundred years of age, keeps writing and producing works of art.

When I get to the house in the heart of Sardinia where she lives with her sister, I have a very high curiosity to ask her what her secret is. But it is enough for me to see her curious eyes and how she bends her own body to laugh, just like a child, that I understand it myself. Maria Lai is a child for whom life is a big play that, if she could, would play over again, “better  though”, for another century.

“Everybody asks me ‘at your age, why don’t you give up working?’ and I answer ‘why don’t you give up breathing?’ I am really lucky for having always played and keep doing it. All my plays have been a thrust to daydream, to tell lies. Only afterwards did I realize they called it art”.

She informs me right away that she doesn’t like to be interviewed “because I’m not important and in the end it’s always about gossiping”. I ask her how we can do it to avoid it. “First of all let us forget it is an interview”. We try it, sitting at the wooden table of the big house looking at the mountains where she has spent most of her childhood until the war, when she left the island to study art, first in Rome and then at the academy of art in Venice.

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Between sexuality, gender and rights: A story from Sub-Saharan Africa

sub-saharan africa

Both the majority of worldwide countries  (38 out of 76) criminalizing same-sex sexual activities and the one with the first constitution in the world to explicitly prohibit unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (South Africa) belong to the African continent.

Last month the first ever African Same Sex Sexualities and Gender Diversity (ASSGD) conference took place in Pretoria, South Africa. A country that in these matters has carried out some other legal steps that constitute records world-wide. In 2006 it became the fifth country in the world –and the first in the continent- to legalise same-sex marriages and it is one of the few countries where it is explicitly permitted to change gender on official documents (the others are Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina).

“The reality on the ground is very different from the laws”, says He-Jin Kim, the representative at the conference of GenderDynamiX, a South African Human Rights organisation dedicated to promoting the rights of transgender people and one of the organizers of the event.

“The so called ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians is very common in black townships in South Africa. Besides, while the law allows changing gender without the need for actual surgery its implementation is lacking and it is rare that transgender people succeed in accessing this legal provision. There is also little access to transgender related healthcare and in light of the gravity of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, it must be noted that sexual health services are for the most part inaccessible to transgender people due to prevailing stigma and ignorance”, she says.

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AIDS treatment in an out of gender

aids treat part one

A dendritic cell


Although the decrease is not sufficient, the first therapeutic AIDS vaccine, designed from the dendritic cells of the actual patients by the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona-IDIBAPS in the framework of the HIVACAT, the Catalan programme for the development of therapeutic vaccines and prevention against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), has achieved a significant response in the majority of patients.

The trial I results of the study (three more will come), which counted on an international collaboration with teams from France, the Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtriére and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris/INSERM,  and the USA, the National Institute of Cancer in Maryland, have been just published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The final aim of the therapeutic vaccine is to minimize the use and to avoid a life long treatment with antiretroviral drugs that, because of their expensive and a life long administration, bring about a great economic burden. Besides, there is no experience over the long term and it is not known if the treatments could bring about resistance, which they happen to do if not well taken, while some of them have proved to bring about side effects (for instance cardiovascular diseases.

“AIDS is unique among the infectious diseases since it is the only one that we cannot cure in spite of having very good drugs”, says Teresa Gallart, immunologist at the Hospital Clinic and one of the 17 authors of the study (9 women and 8 men).

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Gender inequality as HIV social driver

hiv sadik

According to the UNAIDS (UN programme on HIV/AIDS) 2010 report 22.5 out of around 33.3 million people globally living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, where young women between 15 and 24 years old are 8 times more likely than men to be HIV positive. 80% of the women living with HIV worldwide live in the region.

Gender inequality remains one of the main HIV social drivers. According to the UNAIDS report the HIV epidemics and sex and reproductive health are intertwined. HIV related causes contribute to at least 20% of maternal deaths and countries with high HIV rates also have high teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion rates while very few countries involve men in reproductive health programmes. Violence and HIV rates are also often associated.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the only regions where the number of people living with HIV has almost tripled since 2000. The proportion of women living with HIV is also growing. Female sex workers, people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men, whom remain often underserved in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, account for most of the new infections both in these regions and worldwide.

Nafis Sadik is Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General and UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. As former head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) she became the first woman, in the history of the United Nations, to lead one of its major voluntarily funded programmes. She is an expert on international maternal and child health, reproductive and sexual health, including family planning, on population and development and gender and development. She was born in Pakistan and lives in the United States.

In its action items on gender equality the UNAIDS 2010 report calls for the need of countries to address the needs of men who have sex with men through prevention interventions that go beyond health service provisions. What could these be and where are there positive examples that go this way?

We need to make men more responsible and educate them in the importance of women and in the need to keep them safe.

The issue has to be discussed also at policy level because even if now many governments have special programmes for men who have sex with men they haven’t changed the laws in their countries (for instance 79 countries criminalize same sex relations between consenting adults) nor they address the problems of the laws enforcement agency.

The effort is now for governments to have public advocacy programmes at national, regional and local level also by talking to religious and tribe leaders and to strengthen attention and prevention of HIV and AIDS.

HIV is socially not accepted and so are MSM (a medical and social research designation for men who have sex with men). Many of these men are also married, so they go to their male partners, get infected and then bring the infection back to their female partners. In a sense, there is a need not only to prevent HIV among them but also to protect the general population.

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