Live-Blogging from Promoting Gender Equality in the AIDS Response

Emily Douglas

Live-blogging on an UNGASS session on making the response to AIDS work for women and girls.

Live-blogging UNGASS (also known as the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS), day two!

I’m in a session on promoting gender equality in the response to HIV/AIDS.

Ines Alberdi just spoke. She called for attention to be paid to the women’s rights dimension of the pandemic and emphasized the necessity for eliminating gender-based violence in addressing the epidemic. In discussing women’s vulnerability in HIV, program planners tend to focus on three things: prevention of mother-to-child transmission, sex workers, and discouraging girls from being sexually active. But Alberdi says, "Consistent focus on these three aspects obscures the complexity of men’s and women’s lives and the choices they have to make."

An Australian speaker calls for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for all rape survivors. She says that this could be controversial, as very few have access to PEP, but says that it should be a standard part of a rape kit. Legal aid designed to protect women and girls who have suffered abuses is a critical element of HIV service programs. Prosecution must be pursued, so that there is a clear message that abuses of women and children will not be tolerated. "Education can be liberating, but it also can be discriminative," says the speaker. Women "living in villages" may not be educated, may not be able to read or write, but "they are not stupid" and we can "build on their strengths" in prevention efforts.

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A Portuguese speaker representing civil society follows — she draws attention to women’s social and biological vulnerability of HIV infection. She says that universal sexual education for boys and girls is an urgent need. "Without male behavior and culture changes, ending epidemic is not possible."

A representative from Peru speaks, a sex worker representing civil society. She notes that Peruvian sex workers have been able to engage in open communication with the health sector, but have not been able to succeed with other sectors. "We’ve seen a great deal of violence towards sex workers…We were not born vulnerable, we have been made vulnerable by discriminatory policies…policies that favor the Mafia, that then use such policies to extort money and sex from us.

"We become objects of study, not subjects of human rights. They look upon us from our waist down and don’t think about murders and other things happening to us…We have a right to work. We should have a policy which would ensure health for us, housing, credit. We deserve a life with dignity, retirement, old age with dignity."

A Zambian representative cautions against a "one size fits all" approach, specifically around sex workers’ rights and sexual minorities’ rights. He says that religion and religiously-based prevention can tolerate the rights of sexual minorities and treat sex workers without discrimination and that we should not stigmatize religious and moral teachings. He says there is a role for faith-based approaches in prevention.

A sex worker from Argentina speaks. She runs a small organization working with sex workers in Argentina. She says that money is always directed to "major NGOs" and that small agencies are not considered "technically capable." If she and others are capable of starting an organization with very few resources, why can they not receive funding so that they can be present in areas when public policy is being defined for their sector?

A representative from Canada calls for more attention to prevention and treatment strategies that women can control, for instance, microbicides. He also notes that women risk violence when they learn of their HIV status, so HIV testing and counseling must be strictly confidential and must be accompanied by pre-test and post-test counseling. And it must only be undertaken with full and voluntary consent of women and girls being tested.

A representative from a country I wasn’t able to catch emphasizes the role of school in women’s liberation and argues that studies have shown that school is the best arena for sexuality education. School is where girls are able to seek out information on their own, she says.

A representative from the United Kingdom says that when women attain equal status with men, everyone benefits. And he calls for the importance of women-only spaces in educating women and in which women can seek the information they need.

Inez Alberdi is making closing remarks, and she discusses the need to redefine masculinity and femininity.

Jesse Fanton nods to the representative from Zambia in his conclusion, saying that a faith-based approach might also help women and that his country may also explore that approach. 

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