CAIRO - A Canadian council for Muslim women has honored Fanta Ongoiba for her efforts over the past two decades in fighting Aids and offering education to Muslim women in Toronto and her home country in Mali.
HIV/AIDS doesn't discriminate, Ongoiba told The Star.
The way the women are wearing the veil, hijab, to cover themselves, HIV can also be covered this way.
It doesn't mean, you pray five times a day, that you cannot catch HIV, she added.
Working as the executive director of Toronto-based Africans in Partnership Against Aids, Ongoiba has been educating Muslims in the city and her home country of Mali about the importance of protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
For some Muslims, that message has been met with resistance as one sheik called her a troublemaker.
I said, Yes, I'd prefer to be a troublemaker to wake you up,' Ongoiba said.
In an event hosted on Sunday, October 6, Ongoiba was honored by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
At the event, five other Muslim women were celebrated with Women Who Inspire award.
The honored women included Erum Noreen Afsar, who works to promote the equality of Muslim women in Canadian society; Mumtaz Ebrahim, an advocate for learning and literacy; Jamelie Hassan, an internationally recognized visual artist; Almas Jiwani, a humanitarian who pushes for gender equality; and Fatima Sajan, a social justice activist and educator.
Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the North American country.
A recent survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.
Working over the past 20 years, Ongoiba's organization was achieving great success, reaching out to Toronto Muslim community,
At the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, before the first treatments came, people were suffering and dying, she said.
Now we are seeing the reduction of the infection rate in our community. We have done work with Toronto imams. And we train people living with HIV/AIDS to share their experiences.
That changes a lot in the community, to educate people in terms of HIV transmission and infection, and to reduce the stigma in the community.
Working with imams of Toronto mosques, Ongoiba was getting a lot of support.
Here in Toronto, I approach the imams at the mosques where I go all the time to pray. I get close to the imam, and then explain the work I do in the community, she said.
The case was not the same in Mali.
In Mali, it was difficult. They do not want to talk about it because it was taboo. But I explained to them, religion doesn't have anything to do with culture.
Let us separate the god side and let us focus on the cultural side.
The AIDS virus infected an estimated 33 million people globally and has killed 25 million since it was identified in the 1980s.
It destroys immune cells and exposes the body to opportunistic disease.Estimates show that there are 33.2 million people infected with the HIV virus around the world, two-thirds of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.