Book Review: The Wisdom of Whores

I meant to post this for a while, but didn’t get to it until now…it was still bike season when I read it!

wisdom-of-whores1In her 2008 book, The Wisdom Of Whores, Elizabeth Pisani manages to piss everyone off.  The result is a compelling read about what she refers to as the “bureaucrats, brothels and the business of AIDS”.

Based on years of experience as an epidemiologist and writer for UNAIDS, Pisani asks us to look at HIV/AIDS pragmatically rather than ideologically.  It seems simple enough: AIDS programs should be based on evidence.  But Pisani paints a picture of the AIDS industry that is tangled with politics.

Regarding the political Right, Pisani argues that socially conservative “family values” work against effective AIDS programs.  As she points out working in HIV/AIDS is “a career in sex and drugs.”  Despite the knowledge that HIV/AIDS is inextricably linked with sex and drugs, research and programming that deal with these issues is often undermined by the Right.

Pisani also criticizes the development approach to AIDS.  Again, she says, it comes down to sex and drugs.  The development perspective views the response to HIV/AIDS in a broad social context, suggesting that it can be tackled through addressing issues like poverty and gender inequality.  According to Pisani, this approach is too far removed from the real way of preventing HIV/AIDS: clean needles and safe sex.

Overall, Pisani takes a human approach to the AIDS pandemic, seeing the people that it affects not as victims, but as people dealing with complex issues including but not limited to the disease.  This is most acutely visible in her advocacy for the agency of sex workers and the condemnation of the anti-trafficking movement.  Both in her book and in her blog, Pisani gives examples of women being “rescued” from prostitution even when they have chosen to work as sex workers.

The Wisdom of Whore’s might alienate you, but its no-bullshit approach to the AIDS pandemic is based on an important message that calls for pragmatism rather than ideology.  I couldn’t put it down, but now that I’m finished I get my fix at the Wisdom of Whores blog.

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One Response to “Book Review: The Wisdom of Whores”

  1. Zahra at 6:58 pm #

    Any other good recommendations of books to read on this topic? You seem to have a great repertoire!

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