"Movements are not workplaces or organizations, but rather the personal connections that are forged, the longings that are unleashed. They engage both heart and head, persuading through emotional connection as well as evidence."
Robin Gorna is an AIDS activist and feminist who has led global and local campaigns and organizations, including SheDecides (the global women’s rights movement that she co-founded 2017), the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH – hosted by WHO), International AIDS Society (IAS), and Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations (AFAO). Her extensive work on AIDS started in the community sector, and she has also worked as a donor. In 2003, Robin set up UK Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) Global AIDS Policy Team, and then moved to South Africa to lead the UK’s regional and national HIV and health programmes. She co-founded the Women4GlobalFund movement in 2013 and in 2016 became the founding chair of the Women’s Network at St John’s College, Oxford University, where she studied Theology in the mid-1980s. She publishes regularly and wrote one of the earliest books on women, Vamps, Virgins & Victims: how can women fight AIDS? She is active in the advocacy work of the 30,000 strong Long Covid support group and represents the group on the NHS Long Covid Taskforce. She is working on a feminist memoir exploring a life lived between two pandemics.
Writing from her decades of personal experience in the AIDS and gender movements in the United Kingdom and globally, Robin Gorna shares her wisdom about what makes movements work. She compares the organic nature of the AIDS movement she was instrumental in building ,with SheDecides. This was an initiative she was hired to lead, to kickstart a global movement in support of young women’s access to sexual health and reproductive rights. She acutely contrasts an understanding of movements as “identity” – something you belong to and defines you – with that of movements as “strategy”: something built with the express purpose of bringing about change. “Since movements sit almost in opposition to structure, is it even possible to build one?” she asks. “Or desirable?” Robin offers no easy answers, but her experience suggests that all successful movements depend on the interplay of “identity” and “strategy” – an interplay that is often best articulated through the use of the arts and other forms of creative expression. Legal advocacy is just one strategy, Robin writes – and one that SheDecides chose not to use, because of a previous experience: a decade ago, sex workers found themselves alienated from a global movement after they participated in litigation against US policy that, although successful, made no difference in their daily lives.