Launched on International Human Rights Day on the 10th of December 1998, the South African Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has demonstrated its ability to win major gains for people living with AIDS. Whether by challenging government to deliver on its constitutional commitments to the provision of adequate health services, supporting a prisoners’ strike for access to ARVs in Durban, or mobilizing thousands of high school students in the Eastern Cape to march for better prevention strategies on the 30th anniversary of the Soweto youth uprising, the TAC continues to serve as a critical voice of dissent.
Like many others in South Africa and across the world, we have been inspired by the work of the Treatment Action Campaign, whose approaches have greatly influenced the tactics, theoretical frameworks, and philosophical underpinnings of our own work as AIDS and gender activists. In particular, we have been struck by the TAC’s readiness and capacity to change its approach in response to the conditions and challenges it is facing. This paper investigates this ability to change by describing the TAC’s attempt to shift from a relatively exclusive focus on treatment access to a strong focus on addressing the gender inequalities driving the spread and impact of the epidemic. Drawing on the growing literature on gender and HIV/AIDS as well as on interviews with the TAC activists, the paper explores the TAC’s work to challenge gender based violence and to chart out new forms of feminism that some within the organisation are calling “AIDS feminism”. In doing so, the article profiles the TAC’s campaign in Khayelitsha to bring to justice the murderers of the TAC activist Lorna Mlofana and concludes by reflecting on the implications and lessons learned from the TAC’s efforts to address gender inequalities and gender based violence.