Nairobi Summit Calls Upon Women to Be Leaders

Becky Johnson

Becky Johnson reports from The International Women's Summit on Women's Leadership on HIV and AIDS in Nairobi, Kenya—the largest meeting in history on the subject of women and HIV.

The International Women's Summit on Women's Leadership on HIV and AIDS opened in Nairobi, Kenya on July 4. The summit, attended by 1,800 women from 130 countries, was the largest meeting in history on the subject of women and HIV. The event was co-organized by the World YWCA, YWCA of Kenya, and International Community of Women Living with HIV, and began with a one-day forum exclusively for HIV-positive women on July 4.

The International Women's Summit is also noteworthy in that nearly one-third of the participants were openly HIV-positive. Ninety grassroots home-based caregivers from 15 African countries, India and Guatemala also participated in a Grassroots Women's International Academy in Nairobi prior to the YWCA Summit.

The opening ceremony on July 5 included keynote addresses from Dr. Asha Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations; Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization; Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS; Dr. Helene Gayle, Chief Executive Officer of Care USA; and His Excellency Honorable Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya.

Dr. Asha Rose Migiro confirmed the United Nations' support for women and HIV, pledging to "work to ensure HIV and AIDS is high on [the United Nations] agenda … where it belongs."

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Dr. Peter Piot stated that feminization is transforming the AIDS epidemic and called the International Women's Summit "a defining moment in the fight against AIDS." Piot noted that stronger and more effective leadership is needed in the response to HIV and AIDS by giving more resources to women and giving women decision making power. While addressing a crowd of nearly 2,000 people, Piot declared that the world cannot afford to promote condoms with messages that promote male aggressive sexual behavior, stating that "we will accept nothing less than zero tolerance for gender-based violence."

Another highlight of the opening ceremony was the presentation of the Women Leading Change Awards, given to fourteen women around the world who have significantly contributed to the response to HIV and AIDS in their communities. The award winners have been involved in organizing support groups for HIV-positive women, increasing access to anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), and working to address cultural practices such as polygamy and wife inheritance, which contribute to the spread of HIV.

The Nairobi 2007 Call to Action on Women's Leadership on HIV and AIDS was launched at the closing ceremony on July 7. Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, General Secretary of the World YWCA, noted that the Nairobi 2007 Call to Action is not meant to supersede previous documents written about this issue including statements from the International Community of Women Living with HIV, the Barcelona Bill of Rights of 2002, the Canadian Blueprint document of 2006, and the Johannesburg Position on HIV/AIDS and Women's and Girls' Rights in Africa of 2006. However, Kanyoro stated, the Nairobi 2007 Call to Action is unique in that it calls individual women to be personally accountable in the response to HIV and AIDS at the local, national and international levels by working to end stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV, increasing their knowledge and the knowledge of those around them, and committing their time and resources to improve the future for women and girls. The call to action states:

We affirm the human rights of women and girls and recognise that the realisation of these rights is critical to an effective response to the global AIDS pandemic and the future of our world. We commit to lead change in our communities to transform the lives of women and girls everywhere, especially those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. We believe that women's leadership is essential in changing the course of this pandemic … By taking leadership into our hands and uniting in strength as a movement of women, we can lead the change we wish to see in the world.

The document was endorsed by the International Community of Women Living with HIV, Huairou Commission, ATHENA, Blueprint for Action, and the World Council of Churches. Grassroots women participants also issued their own statement, declaring that "it is time for the world to recognize and resource grassroots women's on-going care giving and work and leadership in the response to HIV and AIDS." Deborah Landey, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, summed up the summit by proclaiming that "women's leadership is on the move."

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