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09/28/2015 05:27 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2015

Charlize Theron Shares Moment That Made Her Believe We Can End AIDS

The actress was speaking at the 2015 Mashable Social Good Summit.

When Charlize Theron overheard a gay teenager inquiring about using a condom, the award-winning actress knew she had finally made some progress in fighting AIDS in Africa.

The U.N. Messenger of Peace opened up on Monday at the Mashable Social Good Summit about her decades-long commitment to tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Theron became emotional while noting how the once-taboo topic, which incited fear in her home in South Africa, is now openly discussed among at-risk youth and can feasibly be wiped out by 2030. 

Theron realized the stigma surrounding AIDS had finally started to subside eight years ago, while she was helping to conduct a workshop in Africa. After a volunteer had demonstrated a female condom to the class, a 16-year-old boy asked if he could use it for anal sex.

“I was so moved because that never happened when I was growing up,” Theron said while tearing up during the Mashable panel. “People didn’t feel safe to talk in that manner. I know that that boy is alive, because he felt safe enough in that environment to ask a question.”

“That’s when I knew we were starting something that was going to turn the needle,” she added.

This year’s two-day summit is honing in on how technology and new media will help the world reach the U.N.’s newly adopted goals to end injustices around the world. One of those 17 goals includes ending AIDS in the next 15 years.

And experts agree that it’s actually feasible. 

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Since 2000, the number of new HIV cases has dropped by 35 percent, from 3.1 million to 2 million, according to UNAIDS. 

That decline has been attributed to a number of factors, including greater accessibility to antiretroviral drugs, community outreach programs and mobilizing activists worldwide.

But to continue that momentum, Theron and other activists say that the world needs to lend more resources to grassroots groups.

“The people who are doing the good work are the small, grassroots organizations who are on the ground that nobody is talking about, nobody is supporting,” Theron said. “It’s the people living in the villages with those young girls, with those adolescents who are at high risk.” 

Theron, who founded her eponymous foundation to keep young people in Africa safe from AIDS, noted that it’s these groups who are most attune to the obstacles and inequality and educational issues that young people there face.

And while Theron is emboldened by the progress being made in Africa, she’s also concerned about how the world may still be too “complacent” about the virus.

While there have been significant drops in overall AIDS deaths, it remains the leading killer among adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among all adolescents globally. 

Theron hopes that by keeping the conversation going, she’ll be able to help reinvigorate activists across the spectrum to continue to keep AIDS at the forefront of the activism agenda. 

“That should be something we should all be concerned about,” Theron said of how AIDS disproportionately affects women. “That affects me. That affects you. That’s not just an African problem. That’s not just as Asia problem … that’s all of us.”

 

Also on HuffPost:

  • When She Pushed Back Against The Gender Pay Gap
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    When the Sony hack revealed how unequal pay is for men and women in Hollywood, Theron reportedly insisted that she be paid the same salary as her male co-star Chris Hemsworth for their upcoming film, "The Huntsman." 
  • When She Reminded Girls That Being A Feminist Is Awesome
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    In a June 2015 interview with ELLE UK, Theron explained why feminism is crucial to closing the gender pay gap -- and why we need to teach young girls what feminism really means.  "This is a good time for us to bring this to a place of fairness, and girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing," Theron said. "It doesn’t mean that you hate men. It means equal rights. If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way."
  • When She Explained That 'Women Are Just As Complex And Interesting As Men'
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    During an interview at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Theron perfectly responded to a question about the feminism of "Mad Max:""You know what I think is even more powerful about it? [It's] that I think [director George Miller] didn't have a feminist agenda up his sleeve, and I think that's what makes the story even more powerful, especially how the women are represented in it. It's just very truthful, and I really applaud him for that. I think when we use the word 'feminism' people get a little freaked out, it's like we're somehow, like, being put on a pedestal or anything like that. George has this innate understanding that women are just as complex and interesting as men, and he was really interested in discovering all of that. I think through just his need and want for the truth he actually made an incredible feminist movie." 
  • When She Criticized Hollywood's Views On Aging
    In an April 2015 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/20/charlize-theron-aging-w-magazine_n_7102216.html?utm_hp_ref
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    In an April 2015 interview for W magazine, Theron explained how she cares less about what people think of her now that she is older.“I think, like many women, I was judgmental toward women as they aged," she said. "Women, in our society, are compartmentalized so that we start to feel like we’re cut flowers and after a while we will wilt. I realize now that’s not the case -- we can celebrate every age. That’s my encouragement to 20 year olds who are terrified of getting older: Don’t have a nervous breakdown and don’t hit the Chardonnay too hard. Getting older is not that bad." 
  • When She Explained Why It Was Important For Her To Look Physically Strong In "Mad Max"
    In a May 2015 <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/mad-max-fury-road/charlize-theron-interview/">interview with The Teleg
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    In a May 2015 interview with The Telegraph, Theron talked about how hard she trained for "Mad Max," and why it was crucial for her to look physically strong in the film.  "I'm not a fan of scrawny little girls pretending to kick butt in movies, I just don’t buy it," she said. "And I hate those moments in movies where the tiniest little arms are hitting a guy who is four times her size and we are supposed to believe it." 
  • When She Spoke About The Limited Roles For Women In Movies
    In a May 2015 <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/14/charlize-theron-mad-max-imperator-furiosa-feminist-icon">i
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    In a May 2015 interview with The Guardian, Theron spoke about how women in films are often pigeonholed into two simple types of roles:  “You’re either a really good mother or you’re a really good hooker," she said. "The problem with how movies represent women goes right back to the Madonna/whore complex. You can’t be a really good hooker-mother. It’s impossible.” She added: "Women thrive in being many things. We can be just as dark and light as men. We’re more than just nurturers, more than just breeders, we’re just as conflicted."
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