Annie Lennox – Exclusive : Artist, Singer, Songwriter, Raconteur and Volunteer

Source : Focus Scotland

Artist, singer, songwriter, and raconteur Annie Lennox needs no introduction and FOCUS Scotland recently had the opportunity to talk to one of Scotland’s most vocal advocates for women and children’s rights, fighting for the right to education, health care and access to information critically around HIV / AIDS.

In 2010 Annie was appointed the Special Envoy of the Scottish Parliament Commonwealth Association Branch and last year started assisting the Scottish Parliament in developing its partnership with the National Assembly of Malawi to establish sustainable links to help share ideas and ways of working. Importantly, Annie reported recently to the Scottish Parliament on the impact of Scottish aid to one of the planets most disadvantaged nations.

Wearing a T-Shirt embossed with the statement “HIV POSITIVE”, Annie told political editor Martin Docherty how volunteering plays a part in her life.

In December 2010 the Queen issued the Christmas honours list in which you were included for the volunteering work you undertake for HIV/AIDS charities. How important are recognition awards for raising awareness, and promoting civic duty?

Although receiving awards is a nice bonus, it has nothing to do with my motivation to engage in the work I do. Thousands of people do incredible things and never receive much recognition. They carry on doing what they’re doing in any case, because that’s where their passion lies. For me, I gratefully accept the awards I’ve been given as signs of encouragement to keep using and strengthening my platform as a campaigner and activist.

Volunteering has been a big part of your life, from volunteering for Live AID to your recent Christmas Cornucopia album whose profits have had a direct impact on the work of your foundation. How important is volunteering to you?

I prefer to think of what I do as “engagement” with issues that I’m passionate about. In this way it’s like a two way street…I invest my time, energy and commitment to a cause because I want to catalyse some kind of positive change or response. In return I get the benefit of seeing change taking place, and taking part in the process. It’s the opposite of apathy and impotence. It’s getting off the couch and participating. Nothing could be more rewarding in human terms!

The work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Scotland (CPA) as a Non-Governmental Organisation seems to fit well with your own ethos. Can the work of the CPA Scotland to promote democracy and civic society still be relevant to the modern world and importantly is your work with them playing a part in bringing their work to a wider audience?

Very much so…The Commonwealth has 54 member states stretching across every continent on earth. Over half of the Commonwealth’s billion people are women and girls. To become a Commonwealth member, countries must commit to upholding certain agreed values and principles, including the protection of hu­man rights. That’s a pretty good starting point, and I do feel I have something to contribute here. My recent visit to Malawi as an envoy for the Scottish Parliament gave me an opportunity to meet and talk directly with MP’s from the women’s caucus, as well as the presidential first lady. This would have been hard to do without my connection to the Scottish parliament!

Since 2005 the Scottish CPA has built a relationship with both South African and Malawian parliamentarians. What do you see as your role as a volunteer (special envoy) for the Scottish Branch in promoting a better understanding of HIV / AIDS in our three nations and what has your volunteering work allowed you to do in practical terms?

The issue of HIV /AIDS carries a great degree of stigma, which results in the subject very often being marginalised, when in fact it should be right at the heart of the health agenda. Western countries respond to outbreaks of swine flu and bird flu as epidemics requiring emergency actions. When these outbreaks occur, the front pages of daily newspapers are filled with stories. HIV/AIDS has no such front line coverage, despite the fact that it continues to impact upon millions of people’s lives. I believe that my interest and passion as a campaigner can contribute to help bridge the gap between the organisations I represent, who are doing amazing work…the media, who need to “not forget or ignore”….members of the public, who possibly don’t know anything about the situation, and those in power, who can do a great deal to support those who are most affected. I work in a variety of ways. I work with various organisations at different levels..either giving presentations or interviews for TV, radio or print ( Comic Relief, UNAIDS, Oxfam, The Scottish Parliament, The Mayor’s Office in London, Treatment Action Campaign, M2M)…By making films to highlight and illustrate the human stories behind the pandemic.. or by raising money to directly financially support projects…Check out my website to find out more

Across the U.K. much is being made of the role of volunteers in our society, especially in the Big Society debate. Aside from the politics of it all; how do you think we as a society can ensure that social action is life long journey especially for young people?

I don’t think there are any guarantees. In my opinion the world is a crazy place, with pockets of intelligence, humanity, compassion and determination for the good. What else can I say? I have no prescription for the ultimate solution! “I think it’s important that we wake up to the vast inequalities and injustices that exist in the world, and realise that we all count, and have the means to contribute to change.”

Along with Kate Nash, Paloma Faith, VV Brown and others at EQUALS Live you will celebrate women’s achievements, and raise awareness of the inequalities that women still face around the world. Where do you find the time?

Needless to say…Time is a precious commodity! I have a small group of fantastic people around me who work tirelessly to put my world into a viable shape that I can handle. Apart from that, it would be impossible to function!

The media spotlight is often thrown on the negative aspects of life. How important is it for you in your professional life to use the spotlight to promote work in the HIV / AIDS field especially when it impacts women and children?

Well of course we live in a media driven age that is fuelled by the alliance between “celebrity” voyeurism and exhibitionism. We’re continuously hypnotised by the ever consuming consumerist culture, so that “real life” becomes synonymous with “reality” TV. We have little idea about what exists outside the comfort zone of our own bubble….yet we’re the most over informed humans that have ever existed. I could go on… Do you think it is important for people in public life not just musicians and artists like yourself to support the work of civic society and charitable work?

I think it’s important that we wake up to the vast inequalities and injustices that exist in the world, and realise that we all count, and have the means to contribute to change. I can’t tell anyone what to do..that’s up to them. But I do think that education has a tough gig over the powers of consumerism, media and corruption, from the top to the bottom. As a woman and mother, I feel so privileged to have received the benefits that arose from the sacrifices of women before me, and I want to be part of a collective voice that says that women shouldn’t have to suffer with the unspeakable misery of lives dominated by poverty and oppression. Let me just put it like this…

Forty to 60 per cent of women surveyed in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, Samoa, Thailand and Tanzania said that they had been physically and/ or sexually abused by their intimate partner.

Women perform more than 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, earn 10% of the income, and own 1% of the property.

One woman dies every 90 seconds in pregnancy or childbirth.

Globally…ten million more girls than boys are out of school.

Women hold only 19% of the world’s parliamentary seats

75% of civilians killed in war are women and children

Domestic violence causes more death and disability amongst women aged between sixteen and 44 than cancer or traffic accidents.

96% of the UK’s top 100 companies directors are men.

In the 50 largest publicly traded EU corporations, women make up a paltry average of 11% of top executives, and 4% of CEO’S and heads of boards.

The amount spent in the erectile dysfunction market is four times greater than the amount spent on maternal and newborn health in poor countries.

Reporter – Martin Docherty