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_Women and HIV/AIDS: The Barcelona Bill of Rights . [working draft]

 

Women at Barcelona

"Women at Barcelona" (W@B) is an international coalition of women that is co-ordinating a series of events to highlight gender issues and build women's visibility at this conference. 

Over the past few months, women and men from around the world have come together to create a virtual community to discuss issues of importance regarding gender, and specifically women and HIV/AIDS. With the support of the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International AIDS Society Women's Caucus, Health and Development Networks (HDN) has hosted lively - at times even heated - W@B deliberations on the existing Gender-AIDS eForum. 

Among the most active sub-topic discussions (during Advocacy and Policy) was that of violence against women and the issue of whether or not the promotion of more prevention options may ultimately be undermining the greater need to change society so that women will less frequently face situations of risk, or at the very least, be more empowered to control those situations to their advantage. 

Our first on-site event was the Women At Barcelona pre-conference satellite, which brought together several hundred women and men to discuss women and HIV/AIDS. The focus of this satellite, "HIV and Women's Lives Post-UNGASS: Science and Activism Joining Forces," was to find out what has happened in the past two years, as well as to make plans towards the future. 

Immediately following this was another excellent satellite hosted by the ILO and UNIFEM highlighting their collaborative programme in the follow-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS). 

In conjunction with the satellites and the eForum, there will be a series of events occurring throughout this conference week. Many of these will occur under the coordination of Mujeres Adelante, the community forum that will parallel events at the conference itself, with the aim of promoting the empowerment, education and mobilization of HIV-positive women and their allies There will also be an opportunity for women to come together to debrief on daily experiences and continue to develop the advocacy agenda at the end of each day. 

Through each of these activities, and separate working sessions, we will develop a Women's Declaration. This call for action will be an important global advocacy tool to take back to our homes and communities. 

In addition to these excellent working sessions, there will also be a "Wall of Recognition" - an extraordinary opportunity for us to reflect for a moment and remember and acknowledge those women who have so strongly influenced our work on HIV/AIDS.

On Thursday evening, we will enjoy what promises to be an exciting debate on "controversial HIV issues facing women in the new millennium". For more information on all of these events, please visit the Mujeres Adelante Community Cultural site. 

Finally, following this conference, during the month of August, we will host a one-month post-conference W@B discussion on Gender-AIDS to find out what were the most interesting and important issues raised regarding women and HIV/AIDS during the conference and related events.

* For more information about HDN and the W@B eForum, please visit: http://www.hdnet.org or http://www.womenatbarcelona.net
* To join Gender-AIDS, and the upcoming post-conference W@B discussion, please send a blank email message to
join-gender-aids@healthdev.net
* To send a posting to the eForum, please send a message to:
gender-aids@healthdev.net.

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What women want from this conference 

During the day-long women's pre-conference satellite hosted by the International AIDS Society's Women's Caucus and the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW), nearly 400 women and (a few) men joined a dynamic session that combined panel discussions, interactive questions, regional group meetings, and advocacy work. 

One of the most critical issues was violence against women. A powerful and at times disturbing presentation by Smphiwe Mpala of TsaBotsogo in South Africa spoke to the issue of rape and the fact that "having been raped often makes it much harder for womento seek testing for HIV." People were clearly moved by this and the issue was raised repeatedly. 

Another issue that emerged often was involving men in raising the status and support of women. Sadly the male IAS leaders left immediately following the opening session. 

Zena Stein, however, said that she "had not given up on men entirely." In particular she mentioned Peter Piot of UNAIDS and Mitchell Warren of the Female Health Company, saying that she would like to give them a medal for raising women's issues at every turn. 

We also discussed the lack of research being done on the gender-specificity of ARV treatment, particularly effects on women, who sadly are lacking in research trials. The point was repeatedly raised, most eloquently by Celine D'Costa of the Indian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, that women have less access to health care, particularly poor women. 

One of the most dynamic speakers was Montse Pineda, a Spanish woman who has worked to link local women to this conference. She criticised the Spanish government on the issue of delegate visas - encouraging us to remember those who could not be with us this week due to immigration problems and/or the prohibitive cost of attending these conferences. 

Montse referred to this fact as one part of the "colonisation of AIDS" and voiced her frustration that those who most need information have the least access. Montse will spend her week working with local women to share information through the Mujeres Adelante community parallel forum. She called on us to practice "community ethics" and to start each day with the question "What have I done to help women living with HIV?"

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Women and AIDS, two faces of the same problem 

If we look back we appreciate we have advanced; undoubtedly things have changed but there are situations in which the essence of the problem remains the same. 

Talking with various comrades here in the conference, most of us consider these meetings as important; we get to exchange experiences, we try to learn new things and we get to know realities that are very different from our own. 

This is all very good, but the next question is, does this suffice? The answer is categorical, NO; we are not at the level this epidemic demands from us. 

Throughout all these years, and even during the inaugural address of this conference, we have heard lists of existing needs, lists of problems. So, we have a clear diagnosis of the situation, which means we know "what". 

It is essential we begin talking about "hows and whos".How are we to solve these difficulties? Who is to have political initiative? These are two questions that need to be answered now. 

Since this epidemic began, we women living with HIV/AIDS have been left aside and now, twenty years later we still have no access to ARVs in poor countries, and in the best of cases we have access to discontinuous, interrupted or pregnancy-lasting therapies. 

Women in developed countries who do have access to treatments and good medical care are discriminated against and their rights are violated daily. 

This is the other face of the same coin, these situations appear repeatedly in different countries and year after year, thus, we women living with HIV/AIDS are still being ignored. 

It is our understanding that our challenge is to work on the "hows and whos". Some of these doubts are: "How are we to manage so": 

* We women have access to ARVs 
* We women are not discriminated against 
* Research devotes just as much effort to females as to males. 
* Our human rights are respected 
* Our voices are listened to. 

Since the early days of the epidemic women have worked hard to try to modify this situation, but we cannot achieve this alone. We cannot do it unless political, local, regional and international political decision are on our side and we can count on the collaboration of all those involved. 

We believe this is a possible goal, we have the courage to continue and we know how to do it. Those in whose hands lays the political decision shall some day provide an answer to the "hows and whos." Patricia Pérez, ICW

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"What did you learn today about gender?" Not how many times "gender" has been mentioned, but what can actually be utilised in our communities to help women and men, including youth? We must look forward to how we will ensure that we will never again hear gender-blind presentations at any AIDS conference. 

As Marie Bopp from Tahiti says: "I can't wait to go home, because that is when the work starts." We must increase our advocacy for gender equity and reproductive and sexual health. As Geeta Rao Gupta of the International Center for Research on Women said: "openness about sex and sexuality is non-negotiable," an issue Dr Peter Piot of UNAIDS has vowed to fight for. Maureen Mwanawasa of Zambia insisted that in addition to evaluating our work here "it is essential that we disseminate information from these meetings."  [note: Marie Boop was only the second disclosed HIV+ person to speak at the Ceremonies of the Conference -- she spoke at the Closing Ceremonies. We condemn the neglect of the CONFERENCE AND THE MEDIA to only highlight the Clinton and Mandela Speeches!]

In addition to treatment, we need increased access to condoms and prevention, and a more supportive statement on female condom reuse from the WHO, as well as the integration of HIV/AIDS into family planning work. All of this will pave the path for the introduction and distribution of microbicides when they become available. 

Nichanan (Rung), a young woman from the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, hopes that "women will take the information and declarations from Barcelona back to their communities and act on them so that in two years we can again come together to evaluate what has happened. We must all be accountable for continuing the work between conferences." She looks forward to welcoming you in Bangkok and we look forward to our continued deliberations on W@B on the Gender-AIDS forum. Gender equity is "win-win" for everybody.

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Women leaders united in fight against HIV/AIDS?

"Women are physically more vulnerable than men to HIV infection, and poverty and gender discrimination often put them at risk" observes Suman Mehta, HIV/AIDS Co-coordinator for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). "We know what we must do, but we must do so on a broader scale", she adds.

But what are the women themselves doing to mobilise themselves so as to mount an effective campaign to face the challenges, by way of mobilising themselves and expanding effective solution for women and girls affected by the disease?

This was the key question at a special session which brought together a number of influential women from politics and advocacy around the world. Titled "Women united against AIDS: A strategic dialogue among high powered women."

In his opening statement, Dr Peter Piot observed that while a host of social, economic and cultural factors leave women disproportionately vulnerable to HIV, some of the most inspiriting and effective responses to the challenge have been driven by women.

Noting the presence of influential women from politics - Maureen Manawasa of Zambian, Jeannette Kagame of Rwanda, Princess Rattanna-Devi Norodom from Cambodia, and Kim Campbell of Canada - Dr Piot aid responses to the HIVA/AIDS should now move on to the political agenda.

Other panelists during the discussions forum included the executive director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy; Dr Nafis Sadiq, UN Special envoy for AIDS in Asia, and Beatrice Were from the International Community of Women living with AIDS.

Were challenged women in influential positions to talk openly about HIV/AIDS. She observed that some leaders have miserably failed to take on their responsibilities of being role-models in influencing change and addressing the threat posed by HIV/AIDS.
In an apparent reference to women leaders coming from Africa she said, "You must use the abundant financial resources at your disposal for advocacy. Africa is tired of the wars raging on the continent, instead let us focus on the real problems caused by HIV/AIDS."

Leaders world-wide and those in Africa in particular have also been criticised for not highlighting the problem in their political agenda. Maureen Manawasa, however, said there was recognition that indeed the issue of AIDS need to be incorporated in the broader political agenda of the African leaders. She said under the New Economic Plan for African Development, the issue of HIV/AIDS has been incorporated.

Figures released at the conference also indicate that young people of both sexes suffer from stigma, discrimination, misinformation and denial of access to services. Touching on the issue, Kim Campbell said empowering youth with leadership skills was also critically important. She said this would enable them make informed decisions on issues of HIV/AIDS.

The issue of cultural and traditional values was singled out as one of the main barriers to frank and open discussion on HIV/AIDS. This was more entrenched in some parts of the world. As a result most young people and women are denied information and services that can assist them in checking the spread of the disease.

Nafis Sadiq challenged women to stand up and confront these barriers. She said this can be done at the political, tribal and local levels. In some areas women holding high political have demonstrated that given will they can succeed. Beatrice Were gave an example of the wife of the Senegalese leader for untiring efforts in promoting the use of condoms.



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Women and HIV/AIDS: The Barcelona Bill of Rights . [working draft]


As we enter the third decade of HIV/AIDS, women, especially the young and the poor, are hte most affected. Because gender inequality fuels the HIV/AIDS pandemic, it is imperative that women and girls speak out, set priorities for action and lead the global respnse to the crisis.

Therefore, women and girls from around the world unite and urge all governments, organizations, agencies, donors, communitites and individuals to make our rights a reality.

Women and girls have the right:

To live with dignity and equality.

To bodily integrity.

To health and healthcare, including treatment.

To safety, security and freedom from fear of physical and sexual violence throughout their lives.

To be free from stigma, discrimination, blame and denial.

To their human rights regardless of sexual orientation.

To seexual automomy and sexual pleasure.

To equity in their families.

To education and information.

To economic independence.

These fundamental rights shall include,
but not be limited to the right:

To support and care which meets their particular needs.

To access acceptable, affordable and quality comprehensive healthcare including antiretroviral therapies.

To sexual and reproductive health services, including access to safe abortion without coercion.

To a broader array of preventive and therapeutic technologies that respond to the needs of all women and girls, regardless of age, HIV status or sexual orientation.

To access user-friendly and affordable prevention technologies such as female condoms and microbicides with skills building training on negotiation and use.

To choose to disclose their status in circumstances of safety and security without the threat of violence, discrimination or stigma.

To live their sexuality in safety and with pleasure irrespective of age, HIV status or sexual orientation.

To choose to be mothers and have children irrespective of their HIV status or sexual orientation.

To safe and healthy motherhood for all, including the safety and health of their children.

To choose marriage, form partnerships or divorce, irrespective of age, HIV status or sexual orientation.

To gender equity in education and lifetime education for all.

To formal and informal sexual education throughout their lives.

To information, especially about HIV/AIDS, with an emphasis on women and girls' special vulnerability due to biological differences, gender roles and inequality.

To employment, equal pay, recognition of all forms of work including sex work and compensation for care and support.

To economic independence such as to own and inherit propery, and to access financial resources.

To food security, safe water and shelter.

To freedom of movement and travel irrespective of HIV status.

To express their religious, cultural and social identities.

To associate freely and be leaders within religious, social and cultural institutions.

To lead and participate in all aspects of politics, governance, decision-making, policy development and program implementation.

XIV International AIDS Conference
Barcelona, Spain
11 July 2002

A global effort initiated by Women at Barcelona and Mujeres Adelante with lead
involvement by the International Women's AIDS Causus of the International AIDS Society
and the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS


Spanish Womens' March inside the Barcelona AIDS Conference

 



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