Archive for the ‘HIV/AIDS’ Category

Bullied by partners, relatives and other male contacts, some of the women succumb to the sexual advances of men, even when they knew they would be compromising their health, according to Ikhwezi Lokusa Wellness Centre’s programme director, Kazeka Somhlahlo.

She said some women were abused under the banner of cultural and traditional practices, being forced to have unprotected sex, sometimes in situations when they knew that multiple partners were involved. “That is where we come in with our psycho-social community responsibility programme,” she said.

Somhlahlo said her organisation provided care, support and treatment to close to 1900 patients in the province, some from as far as Aliwal North and Transkei.

The centre has full-time doctors, nurses, a pharmacy and other staff in East London, and also provides community outreach, social support and patient empowerment programmes to communities.

Established in 2002, Ikhwezi Lokusa caters for patients on anti- retrovirals (ARVs), and also works towards keeping those who have not started taking them healthy enough not to need them. “Because HIV, Aids and gender go together our role is not limited to the physical, but the social aspects of our patients as well.”

She said their role as facilitators in the well-being of people living with HIV and Aids became more pronounced during the ongoing international rally of 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children .

The campaign, recognised worldwide and commemorated between November 25 and December 10, is aimed at generating increased awareness about violence against women and children.

It also highlights the ways in which such violence manifests itself within the society, and the negative impact it has on vulnerable groups. “Women are reminded that they were ‘bought’ when the man paid lobola to their families, and they are left with no option but to give in to his demands against their better judgment,” said Somhlahlo.

She said some were raped, sometimes by people they knew.

“Then you have those in difficult housing situations, where too many people, both female and male, live together in a small shack.”

Describing such situations as “explosive”, she said indiscriminate sexual acts took place, and in some cases women are forced to provide sexual favours in order to have a place to live.

The disproportionate burden of HIV/Aids borne by women and girls in most developing countries requires urgent attention. At the heart of the problem is profound gender inequality and inequity, coupled with the systematic disempowerment of women, condoned by society for generations.

Although a global problem, it is particularly evident in developing countries and the HIV/Aids epidemic, therefore, is merely exposing the underlying failures of society.

Comprehensive sexual education for adolescent boys and girls is probably the single most important intervention in correcting gender stereotypes and imbalances and for preventing violence against women and the further spread of HIV.

Unfortunately, reproductive health services for women and girls in developing countries are universally not up to standard. Services that need urgent attention include family planning, antenatal, perinatal and postnatal care, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer of the cervix and access to safe and legalised abortion. In fact, criminal abortion is rife and extremely dangerous in developing countries, accounting for about 12% of all maternal mortality.

Female condoms have also not been given a chance as an important female-controlled method of preventing HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. When women are properly counselled and trained in the use of female condoms, there is a high acceptance and demand for their availability. The female condom is particularly effective in violent or non-consensual relationships. Much greater investment into its research and development needs to be made.

Much publicity has been given to the microbicide gel containing the antiretroviral drug tenofovir in the prevention of HIV infection. The fact that it appears to be 40% effective shows promise for the female-controlled method of prevention.

Comment by Dr Brian Brink, chief medical officer of Anglo American and the chair of the International Women’s Health Coalition

The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the relaxation of the Vatican’s stance against condom use.

Pope Benedict XVI said the use of condoms is acceptable to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

“The Pope’s statement is in line with evidence that condoms are highly effective in preventing infection with the HIV virus. If used correctly and consistently, the male condom is the most efficient protection against the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” said WHO director for Western Pacific region Dr. Shin Young-soo.

Shin said the papal statement would help ease the reluctance of several sectors to use condoms. He acknowledged, however, that the pope was not endorsing the use of condoms as a means for birth control.

WHO records show that the prevalence of HIV in Asia Pacific had reached 20 percent among sex workers and up to 30 percent among men having sex with men.

“The truth is there for everyone to see. Unprotected sex is a central driver of the AIDS epidemic in Asia,” Shin said.

In a report of the Asia Commission on AIDS in 2008, it was estimated that some 75 million men in the region patronize sex from 10 million sex workers and, at the same time, have sex with 50 million regular or casual partners.

WHO had warned that in Western Pacific, HIV infection will continue to rise if countries will not focus on people with “risky lifestyles.”

WHO said 130,000 to 150,000 new infections related to high-risk lifestyle occur every year in the Western Pacific region.

These include infections through unprotected sex, sharing drug needles, and men having sex with men.

“While condom use remains the core strategy for preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among sex workers, essential and affordable sexual and reproductive health services should also be made available to sex workers to address a host of other issues,” it said.

These services include voluntary HIV counseling and testing, STI diagnosis and treatment, cervical cancer prevention, prevention of parent-to-child transmission, contraception counseling, abortion and post-abortion care, as well as specialized support to the transgender community.

It is estimated that some 1.4 million people in Western Pacific were diagnosed with the AIDS virus. Ten years ago, the number of cases was 680,000.

Worldwide, some 33.4 million people are living with HIV.

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman also welcomed the new papal statement on condom use, saying it supports his advocacy of family planning through the use of contraceptives.

“This is a very welcome development as it signals the liberalization of the stand of the Catholic Church when it comes to condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Lagman, principal author of the highly contested Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.“The moderation of the Church’s position on condoms to prevent the spread of a deadly disease may ultimately evolve to include the use of condoms and other contraceptives to prevent high risk pregnancies,” he added.

Lagman then said the use of contraceptives is a lesser evil than committing abortion and having increased incidents of maternal death. “Family planning and contraception save lives by helping women avoid high risk pregnancies which often end in maternal and infant death or morbidity,” he said. Citing data from the National Statistics Office, he said maternal deaths in the Philippines account for one out of every seven deaths of women of reproductive age. He noted that a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund showed that one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be prevented if women who want to use contraception are given access to it.

The study also showed that helping women plan their families can prevent one million infant and child deaths every year worldwide because closely spaced pregnancies threaten infant survival.

Lagman also cited another study showing that regular and proper use of contraceptives reduces the incidence of abortion by 85 percent.

“Clearly, a pregnancy that is planned and wanted will not be aborted. It is therefore only logical to conclude that the more women can avoid unintended and mistimed pregnancies through effective family planning, the less the incidence of abortion will be,” he said. Despite the endorsement from the Vatican, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) vows to continue opposing the RH bill “because that is our moral duty,” said Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, vice chair of the CBCB Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL). With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan

redribbonWorld AIDS Day, observed December 1 each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. It is common to hold memorials to honor persons who have died from HIV/AIDS on this day. Government and health officials also observe the event, often with speeches or forums on the AIDS topics. Since 1995, the President of the United States has made an official proclamation on World AIDS Day. Governments of other nations have followed suit and issued similar announcements.

AIDS has killed more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007,[1] and an estimated 33.2 million people worldwide live with HIV as of 2007,[2] making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 2 million lives in 2007,[3] of which about 270,000 were children.[4]


A growing number of women in South Africa and other countries in the region have come forward in the last few years with stories of forced or coerced sterilization after an HIV-positive test result.

Local rights groups in Namibia, with the support of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, have helped uncover 15 such cases, and a trial involving three HV-positive women who say they were sterilized at public health facilities without their consent is due to resume on 1 September in the High Court.

“It does appear that in Namibia [the practice of sterilising HIV-positive women] has been fairly widespread and systemic,” said Delme Cupido, coordinator of HIV/AIDS policy at the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa (OSISA), which is providing funding for the legal action.

Similar cases have been uncovered in Zambia, and Promise Mtembu, an AIDS and women’s rights activist who was herself sterilized in 1997, is gathering stories from South African women living with HIV whose reproductive rights have been violated.

Some of the 12 cases she has so far documented occurred several years before prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services were available, but the most recent took place in 2009, by which time public health facilities were using a dual-antiretroviral therapy regimen that can reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission to less than five percent.

Aside from the availability of PMTCT, performing a medical procedure without informed consent is a serious human rights violation and yet, according to Mushahida Adhikari, an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town working with Mtembu to compile cases with a view to taking legal action, “A lot of women didn’t know it was wrong that they’d been sterilized. In many cases [the women] knew what they were signing, but didn’t feel like they had a choice.”

Mtembu and Adhikari hope to collect enough strong cases to take to South Africa’s High Court and, in the event of a ruling in their favour, to present them to the country’s Constitutional Court, but “It’s going to be a long, hard slog,” Adhikari warned. “A lot of the women don’t necessarily want to be part of a big class action, they just want an apology.”

Often the women do not want to go to court because they have not told their families about being sterilized. Adhikari said the stigma associated with not being able to have children could be as strong as being HIV positive.

Reversal may be possible, depending on how the sterilization was performed, but the procedure is difficult and too expensive for most of the women.

Part of a longer article at

A United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) report has highlighted the world’s failure to include women in decision-making in the HIV and AIDS response, despite a significant rise in the epidemic among women.

According to Ines Alberdi, executive director of UNIFEM, accelerating progress in the response to HIV is impossible when women are invisible in decision-making.

“Through our work on the ground we have repeatedly heard the voices of women as they provide concrete examples of what can work on the ground in preventing or reducing the epidemic, but these voices are missing in policy responses,” said Alberdi.

Entitled Transforming the National AIDS Response: Advancing Women’s Leadership and Participation, the report provides a clear assessment of the challenges women — particularly HIV-positive women — face in fully participating in policy-setting mechanisms and identified strategies which can be adopted to advance their involvement.

Alberdi further highlighted the importance of effective participation of women, especially HIV-positive women, in being part of the solutions and in finding sustainable, effective strategies to address HIV and AIDS.

Almost half of the 31.3 million HIV-positive adults in the world are women, with the numbers rising rapidly each day.

According to the report, 60 per cent of adults living with the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa are women, while in the Caribbean HIV prevalence rates among women have increased from 46 per cent in 2001 to 53 per cent in 2008, making it the second most affected region after sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, about 40 per cent of newly reported HIV cases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2006 were among women.

But in spite of this rising trend, and women often being at the front-line of the epidemic, several factors restrict women’s engagement in finding solutions to the pandemic.

According to the UNIFEM report, the women interviewed cited stigma, lack of access to information, the burden of care giving and women’s multiple responsibilities in the home as well as illiteracy, as contributing factors.

“As this report demonstrates, getting a seat at the table where decisions are made on issues like how to access treatment in remote villages, how to educate communities about prevention of HIV, how to reach out to women who often face violence or discrimination if they reveal their status, is often next to impossible for an HIV-positive woman,” said Tyler Crone, lead author of the report.

On the opening day of the XV111 International Conference, a panel of 10 HIV infected women made recommendations as a roadmap for governments, donors, civil society and others involved in the AIDS response to ensure women’s participation.

Among the recommendations are for infected women, home-based caregivers and young women be recognised as key stakeholders in the AIDS response. They also recommended that there be reserved formal places for full participation and leadership in decision-making bodies.

It was also recommended that investments be made in organisations and initiatives led by HIV-positive women, especially community-based ones.—-UNIFEM_7842264

With a recent survey showing that at least 12 per cent of women between 15-49 years were the victims of forced sexual abuse at one point during their lifetime, the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) hosted a workshop to look at gender-based violence (GBV) and its implications for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In addition to addressing the underlying issues and disseminating current data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and GBV, the workshop also brought persons from the National HIV/STI programme at the Ministry of Health and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs together to discuss the way forward as they tackle the ‘two epidemics’.

Apart from showing the incidence of forced sexual abuse among women of reproductive age, the 2008 Reproductive Health Survey also showed that at least one in three women experienced at least one type of abuse, and one in five reported having experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

During her dissemination of the survey data, executive director of the NFPB Dr Olivia McDonald described some of the findings as being “very frightening”, and sought to show the direct and indirect link to HIV/AIDS and GBV.

“Sexual violence poses a direct biological risk for HIV because where there is forced intercourse, there is usually some vaginal trauma or laceration, and wherever there is trauma, this will facilitate transmission of any sexually transmitted infection, including HIV,” she said.

She also pointed to the fact that women were unable to negotiate condom use during forced sexual intercourse, and that the fear of violence sometimes prevented women from getting tested or disclosing their status.

In addition to this, the doctor also asserted that the “experience of violence may be linked to increased risk taking”.

“Risk-taking behaviours would include multi-partners (and) non-primary partners. These are women who may have a main partner, but they also have what the army would call a second in command,” she explained.

In her address to those in attendance at the workshop, Co-ordinator for HIV Treatment and Care at the Ministry of Health Dr Debbie Carrington pointed to the importance of addressing GBV, as her group forges ahead to achieve the millennium development goal “to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic by 2015”.

“As a country and a region, we still have a far way to go to ensure protection of our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

But Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs Faith Webster assured that her organisation in fulfilling its mandate, and has been undertaking a number of projects and workshops to enlighten women about their rights and to empower them. She said that her group will be “increasing efforts to eliminate violence against women”, even as it remains mindful of the fact that men are also being abused and need to be helped as well.

As it relates to their role in the elimination of HIV/AIDS, Director of Policy and Research at the Bureau Jennifer Williams said the organisation currently partners with the United Nations Population Fund to distribute condoms to encourage safe sex. She said they have also been trying to change the mindset of teenage boys about the treatment of women through a series of workshops that they host throughout the year.

“We have been conducting public education on HIV and AIDS and we have also been conducting public education on gender-based violence,” she added.

But even with increasing interventions and campaigns to stem the transmission of HIV, Director of Policy Formulation, Monitoring and Evaluation at the NFPB Kevin Bell said people seemed “to hear it, but they tune out”.

His statement comes amidst his analysis of the 2008 survey, which showed that a significant percentage of the population still harboured myths about the disease and were not going for testing. This was primarily the case among those living in the North East region of the country.

“We need to reduce the predisposing circumstances — those circumstances that put people at risk to gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS,” he said.

Thirteen of every 100 married Kenyan women have co-wives. This means they are married to men who have at least one or more other wives, according to the latest official statistics on population trends.

Although the figure represents a drop from the 16 of every 100 married women who had co-wives in 2003, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), 2008/2009 says Kenyan men should restrain themselves from taking more than one wife.

Polygamy means multiple spouses; polygyny means multiple wives; and polyandry means multiple husbands. Experts believe that in Kenya polygyny is one of the social practices fuelling the spread of HIV/Aids.

It also perpetuates large families, frustrating campaigns to control population growth estimated at 2.3 per cent per year. Results of last year’s national population census — now scheduled to be released next month— are expected to show that Kenya has a population of 40 million people, a number so high that it will dominate today’s World Population Day official celebrations being held in Mombasa.

“We get worried by polygamous marriages because they increase the
likelihood that co-wives will compete among themselves at having more children and end up contributing to the average number of births per women,” said Samuel Ogola, a programme officer at the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development.

The situation, he said, was worse among less educated women, an observation confirmed in the KDHS report. It shows that educated women were less likely to practice polygamy, a practice that was common in past centuries when having more women and children was considered to be a status symbol and a source of pride for men.

Having more daughters in the past was seen as a source of wealth from the dowry paid to their families when they were married.

Women have been urged to be more assertive and insist that their partners respect their decisions about sex.

Mr Patrick Amoateng-Mensah, Executive Director of the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), a non-governmental organization, who made call, said that could help check their vulnerability to the HIV-AIDS infection.

He was speaking in Kumasi at the launch of the Ashanti Region “Fair play for Africa campaign”, an alliance of more than 200 civil society organizations’, using sports as a platform to draw attention to health issues affecting the people in Africa.

“Reduction of HIV/AIDS stigma among women”, was the theme.

Politicians, educationists, public officers, students, health professionals, religious leaders and other stakeholders were present to support the campaign.

Mr Amoateng-Mensah urged the people to overcome stigmatization attached to the disease and go for voluntary counseling and testing.

It is estimated that only about 10 per cent of Ghanaians know their HIV/AIDS status.

Mr Mensah also spoke of the need for those living with the disease to be supported to lead normal lives.

Dr Yeboah Awudzi, Kumasi Metropolitan Director of Health Services, said 73 per cent of people aged between 15 and 17 years, who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS disease in 2008 in the Metropolis, were girls.

‘The voices of carers speak to their daily struggles with life decisions that have socio-economic and political implications for their families and communities’ – Dr Meena Shivdas

The crucial role of unpaid carers looking after people living with HIV/AIDS should be urgently recognised as a missing part of the treatment equation.

In a statement prepared for the 9th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (9WAMM), a group of 16 Commonwealth parliamentarians said the invisible and unvalued contribution of unpaid care workers impacted negatively on the wellbeing of families.

The parliamentarians and researchers met in Barbados over the weekend for an advocacy workshop to discuss research on the gender and policy dimensions of unpaid HIV care.

“At the centre of the AIDS response are the 12 million people who urgently require access to treatment, care and support. Eight million people who require treatment but do not have access to it are care for at home mostly by women and children, especially girls. These unpaid carers are the missing factor in the treatment equation,” they said.

This was particularly pertinent in the context of the global public debt crisis, which will have a huge impact on HIV treatment and care, with cutbacks impacting on healthcare. “It is imperative that we place the unpaid HIV carer in the household as part of the core response to HIV,” they agreed.

The workshop was organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

Worldwide, there are 33.4 million people living with HIV and nearly two thirds of them are Commonwealth citizens. Over half are women.

Dr Meena Shivdas, Advisor at the Secretariat’s Gender Section said that the research was undertaken as a response to a paper on financing gender equality in HIV interventions, presented when Women’s Affairs Ministers last met in Uganda in 2007.

“This paper set off discussions on unpaid full time HIV care and the need to amplify the voices of carers to make the links between the dignity and rights of carers and the economics of policy and programme decisions on HIV.

“The voices of these carers — women, men and children — speak to their daily struggles with life decisions that have socio-economic and political implications for their families and communities.”

Countries covered in the research were Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The research was undertaken by Professor Marilyn Waring, a former MP from New Zealand and CPA member whose extensive work on women’s unpaid work is globally acknowledged. She is currently at the Auckland University of Technology. Dr Robert Carr, the author of the paper that set off the research, is the Director of ICASO, and a global HIV activist. Associate Prof Anit Mukherjee is a health economist at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, and a lead author of the AIDS Commission in Asia report. Dr Shivdas is the fourth member of the team, and works on human rights, the law and HIV.

Commonwealth News and Information Service (London)

According to the coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the LAC, Amon Ngavetene, the women who are seeking redress after allegedly being sterilised without their consent, are not seeking compensation but the re-formation of the country’s health system.

He said several rights of the women have been violated, some of which include the right to reproduction and dignity.

Ngavetene called on the re-formation of the public health system that includes the training of medical staff on the rights of patients.

The first reports of the alleged forced sterilisation at state hospitals surfaced in 2007 and since February 2008, 15 individual cases have been documented. This, according to several civil society organisations, is only the tip of the ice-berg.

Speaking during the march this week, Rosa Namises, director of Women’s Solidarity Namibia, asked government to send a clear message that it will not tolerate the violation of women’s rights.

“We call on government to send a clear message that it will not tolerate the violation of any women’s fundamental right to make free and informed decisions about her own body and health, particularly with regard to reproductive choices, and further that it is actively pursuing initiatives to end the discrimination against people living with HIV. We hope this will mark an end to this flagrant violation of HIV-positive women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Namibia,” said Namises, before handing over a petition to the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

She said in order to ensure that this does not happen again, government must immediately issue a circular to both public and private health facilities explicitly prohibiting them from sterilising patients without their consent.

Namises further asked the government to review and update current reproductive health policies and guidelines, to ensure that all health care workers receive adequate training about the need for patients to receive quality and non-discriminatory medical care, regardless of their HIV status, as well as conduct a public awareness campaign on the issue.

“We ask that the Namibian government conduct a public enquiry on the issue of sterilisation without informed consent and ensure that women who have been sterilised receive just and fair compensation for their loss, including option of sterilisation reversal.”

The case of three HIV positive women who claim that they also have been sterilised and are seeking compensation from government, ended in court today (Friday, 4 June).

One of the women testified that she was asked to sign several forms on the day she was sterilised and only after the procedure.

She said the nurses did not explain to her what the forms were for and she was also experiencing too much pain, to pay any mind.

In support of the women, several activities such as hospital sit – ins were organised. The sit-ins started on last Wednesday and ended Friday.

A petition signed by more than 1000 people was also handed over to the Ministry of Health last week.

On May 6th-8th, 2010, a truly historic event took place in Africa. Five hundred grandmothers from across sub-Saharan Africa joined together in Swaziland for the first international Grandmothers’ Gathering on the continent. On May 8th, 2,000 grandmothers united in solidarity and marched in the capital city of Manzini, to call for support and action the world over to support them as they struggle at the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic to create a hopeful future for their families.

African grandmothers congregated to share their experiences and concerns, and to lay the groundwork for a strong regional network to support one another as they strive to turn the tide of AIDS. These courageous women, who are caring for scores of grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, made their voices heard, amplifying the urgent need for increased support, the recognition of their leadership, and the pivotal role they play in resurrecting families and communities damaged by the loss and strife of the AIDS pandemic.

Since the Grandmothers’ Gathering in Toronto in 2006, which brought together 100 Africans and 200 Canadian grandmothers, the SLF has been providing financial support to organisations both run by and for grandmothers to support them and the grandchildren in their care.

These projects have flourished and deepened the breadth and reach of their work. They have grown the number of grandmothers involved in grief counselling and income generation. They have opened grandmother-led early childhood education centres, and increased hugely the numbers of grandmothers in support groups. They have taken on home-based care work – identifying households in crisis and bringing care, sustenance and support to ever-more families in their communities.

The Gathering will provide these remarkable women the opportunity to talk about the advances made in their work and their understanding of the role of grandmothers in the context of the AIDS pandemic, and identify the way forward – from programming, to advocacy, policy and funding aspirations and intentions at the regional, country and community levels.

Imagine the determination it takes to care for three, five or fifteen children orphaned by AIDS, with little or no resources. Imagine the many trips every day for water and firewood, and the backbreaking labour of working to harvest enough food to eat, and perhaps a little to sell for money. Imagine losing your own children to AIDS and becoming a parent anew in your fifties, sixties or seventies.

Now imagine all of that determination, commitment, ingenuity and hope coming together for one purpose: to turn the tide of the pandemic across the continent. The implications are simply stunning.


See also blog postings at

Curbing gender disparity and increasing awareness among Indonesian women of their reproductive rights could help save them from HIV and AIDS, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari Gumelar has said.

“We are aware that the number of women with HIV is increasing. Women in committed relationships are vulnerable to contracting HIV if their partners also have it,” Linda said in Jakarta during the launching of the Report of HIV Transmission of Intimate Partner Relationships in Asia.

The report, published by UNAIDS, revealed that in 2006 there was a substantial increase in the number of women over 15 years old living with HIV in Indonesia as compared to the figure in 2002.

Indonesian women are among 50 million people in Asia at risk of being infected with HIV from long-term sexual partners.

“Currently it is necessary to increase programs targeting at strengthening women’s reproductive rights and the bargaining power so that they can refuse high-risk sex,” Linda said.

Irwanto, a professor from the Atmajaya University, said that it was only recently that the threat of long-term intimate relationships as possible HIV infection sources was realized.

He said a few years ago the focus had been on IDU (injection drug users). It was only recently realized that drug users were recognized to have girlfriends, wives and families, who are at high risk of contracting the disease.

Nafsiah Mboi,secretary for the National AIDS Commission, said that despite the successful campaigns on IDUs and drug use in relations the HIV, the efforts to prevent sexual transmission of HIV in the country had been much less successful.

Giving sex workers condoms and advice will not bring down HIV rates, says Elena Reynaga, general secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Sex Workers Network. But giving them their rights will.

It is of little use giving condoms and HIV prevention advice to women who are harrassed by the police and abused and cheated by their clients because of their illegitimacy, she says. If you want sex workers to negotiate with their clients, you have to give them status. They have to have some rights.

She does not see why this, the oldest profession, should not be treated like any other. Everybody has to work for a living, she says. Some women, brought up in poverty, have nothing else to offer.

But the network, which now has 17 member organisations across Latin America, has begun to challenge attitudes. “We now say what we think – not what society wants to hear from us. We are trying to get out of the role of the victim to say ‘this body is mine – why do I have to ask the permission of society to do what I want to do with it? It is the only thing that is mine. If I want to make money from that, it is my right’.

“We have rights as women and we need to fight for that – to have the same benefits that all workers have to get out of the darkness.”

Society is two-faced, she says. There is demand for commercial sex, but discrimination against those who provide it. Her argument is that sex workers should be treated like any other kind. And yes – they need pensions. “We want to contribute to the national security for when we are old,” she says.

Reynaga has the backing of the International HIV/Aids Alliance for her demand that Global Fund money should be channelled through sex workers’ organisations, and not NGOs that think they know what is best for them.

“Remember all the millions of dollars that the Global Fund has spent in our region. Very little has reached us,” she says. In only three countries – Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay – have any grants gone to sex workers organisations. Out of $170 million spent in Latin America, according to an report by the Alliance, only 4.6% went directly to be managed by key populations. Yet where it has, she says, there have been significant achievements. In Ecuador, they advocated for the end of a compulsory card that each sex worker had to keep with her, listing the sexually transmitted infections she had suffered. Each woman had to pay a doctor $26 a week for a check-up. “The doctors always invented STIs to sell medicines to them,” says Reynaga, “and they were also victims of the doctors.” But now, she says, sex workers are now far more readily seeking healthcare when they need it.

And they need and want education, she says. Reynaga, brought up in dire poverty in Argentina, went to school so that she could run the network and speak on equal terms with politicians and officials. She was 47 at the time. Learning to read and write has transformed her life. Education opens horizons and for many – although not all – it shows a path out of sex work altogether.

Part of a longer article at

Life imprisonment is the minimum punishment for anyone convicted of having gay sex, under an anti-homosexuality bill currently before Uganda’s parliament. If the accused person is HIV positive or a serial offender, or a “person of authority” over the other partner, or if the “victim” is under 18, a conviction will result in the death penalty.

Members of the public are obliged to report any homosexual activity to police with 24 hours or risk up to three years in jail – a scenario that human rights campaigners say will result in a witchhunt. Ugandans breaking the new law abroad will be subject to extradition requests.

“The bill is haunting us,” said Mugisha, 25, chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition of local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups that will all be banned under the law. “If this passes we will have to leave the country.”

Human rights groups within and outside Uganda have condemned the proposed legislation, which is designed to strengthen colonial-era laws that already criminalise gay sex. The issue threatened to overshadow the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, with the UK and Canada both expressing strong concerns. Ahead of the meeting Stephen Lewis, a former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, said the law “makes a mockery of Commonwealth principles” and has “a taste of fascism” about it.

But within Uganda deeply-rooted homophobia, aided by a US-linked evangelical campaign alleging that gay men are trying to “recruit” schoolchildren, and that homosexuality is a habit that can be “cured”, has ensured widespread public support for the bill.

Homosexuality has always been a taboo subject in Uganda, and is considered by many to be an affront both to local culture and religion, which plays a strong role in family life. This stigma and the real threat of job loss means that no public personality has ever “come out”.

Even local HIV campaigns – which have been heavily influenced by the evangelical church with a bias towards abstinence over condom use – have deliberately avoided targeting gay men for both prevention and access to treatment.

“This means many gay men here think Aids is a non-issue, which is so dangerous,” said Mugisha, who together with a few colleagues, has risked arrest by agitating in recent years for a change in the HIV policy.

At the same time, some influential religious leaders have warned about the dangers of accepting liberal western attitudes towards homosexuality.

Both opponents and supporters agree that the impetus for the a more hardline law came in March during a seminar in Kampala to “expose the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda“.

Edited version of longer article at

See also: Sign the Petition to the British Prime Minister to Condemn Uganda’s proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”

Marking World AIDS Day on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon “warned … that new infections are outpacing the gains from treating people with the HIV virus” and that discrimination against HIV-positive people remains “widespread,” the Associated Press reports. “While the world is seeing signs of progress in reversing the AIDS epidemic, Ban said Tuesday that more must be done urgently to reach the U.N. goal of providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010,” the news service writes (Lederer, 12/1).

Zuma Announces Expansion Of HIV Treatment For Pregnant Women, Infants; U.S. To Give $120M To South Africa For ARVs

Media Examines Global, Regional Responses To HIV/AIDS

Media Examines Country-Level Responses To HIV/AIDS

For links to these reports go to

Occasion: World AIDS Day, 1 December 2009.

A recent report by the World Health Organization revealed that AIDS is the leading killer of women of reproductive age in poor and middle-income countries. This is unacceptable at a time when HIV treatment is available. As we are commemorating World AIDS Day, we need to ensure that efforts are undertaken to understand the particular needs and special circumstances of women and girls confronting the epidemic.

We need to do better in targeting actions, allocating budget resources, and tracking progress accordingly. Responding through the health sector is important, and investing in biomedical solutions such as new preventive technologies, treatments and cures must continue. Yet there must be an equally rigorous and well-financed effort to address the root causes of HIV, and that lie within social, economic and political structures.

We now know that at every point along the HIV/AIDS continuum, from preventing the spread of the virus to diminishing its impact, this crisis affects women and men differently. Disaggregating data by sex and undertaking analysis of the situation of women, men, girls, and boys are critical first steps – and should be prerequisites for resource allocation, medical research, legislative reform, and social security support in order to guarantee equal access and benefit for women and girls.

With the pressure on government budgets in the context of the global economic crisis and the unpredictability of official development assistance (ODA), cuts in public expenditures in the social sector are likely to occur. We must ensure that this time of economic turmoil does not result in a negative impact on HIV prevention, treatment, and support programmes, particularly for women, who are already marginalized in the response.

The advancement of gender equality must be at the core of the response to the pandemic. We know that women’s vulnerability to HIV is closely connected to gender discrimination and the continued violation of women’s rights. Empowering women will enable them to negotiate safer sex and protect themselves from HIV infection. Aware of their rights, women will be encouraged to seek treatment, care and support.

This year’s 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) should serve to reinforce its importance as an instrument for helping turn the tide of the pandemic. Called the international bill of women’s human rights, CEDAW is a critical tool to understand what is required to achieve gender equality and how to bring about concrete changes to realize women’s human rights.

The year 2010 will be a critical year as we review progress on countries’ commitments on HIV/AIDS, and we must do our utmost to remove the barriers that stand in the way of universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for all – women, men, girls, and boys. We must continue to demonstrate leadership and invest resources targeted to the priorities of women and girls; this includes addressing social, economic and legal factors that negatively impact on women. HIV and AIDS and persistent gender inequality are mutually reinforcing crises; we must tackle them together to achieve lasting change.

Women are at greater risk of HIV infection and HIV has a particularly devastating impact on women and their families. Unless these gender disparities and their underlying causes are adequately addressed, efforts to reduce the spread of HIV and address its consequences will be woefully incomplete.

The picture at the end of 2009 is, in some important respects, a positive one. UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on Aids, reports that new HIV infections are down by 17 per cent over the past eight years. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the most progress in reducing new infection rates.

More people have access to antiretroviral treatment, and the number of Aids-related deaths has declined by more than 10 per cent over the past five years.

However, laws, practices and proposals in many countries undermine these positive developments.

Canada and the United States have in recent years prosecuted and secured convictions of dozens of people with HIV under legislation that criminalises HIV transmission.

Elsewhere in the world, countries have increasingly adopted or considered such measures.

Human Rights Watch reports that in Africa alone, 14 countries have enacted laws that criminalise HIV transmission — in terms that potentially outlaw all sexual behaviour by those who are HIV positive.

A measure now being debated in Uganda would require pregnant women and their partners to be tested, even without their consent.

Mandatory testing increases the potential for stigma and discrimination. In particular, women who test positive face a greater chance of violence at the hands of their partners.

The measure would also criminalise “attempted transmission” of HIV and would provide for other criminal penalties for the failure of an HIV-positive person to “observe instructions on prevention and treatment,” among other provisions.

Laws like these are impractical, unnecessary and counterproductive — especially because they create incentives to avoid getting tested, receiving health information and obtaining necessary care.

Even where such legislation is not an issue, stigma and discrimination are an everyday reality for those who live with — or are suspected of having — HIV.

Gay and bisexual men, people who use drugs, prisoners and sex workers, among others, may face significant hurdles in access to effective HIV prevention programmes.

Heterosexual transmission accounts for a larger proportion of new HIV transmission worldwide, and in sub-Saharan Africa the significance of heterosexual transmission has long been well-known.

Even so, knowledge has not translated into sound policy responses. Not enough has been done to address the human rights abuses and the role of poverty in driving the epidemic among women.

As one example, the rate of HIV infection in South Africa for young women between the ages of 15 and 19 is more than twice that for young men of the same age. The prevalence rate for women in their mid to late 20s is more than 32 per cent.

South Africa’s alarming level of sexual violence is one contributing factor in these high rates. Two out of five men surveyed for a study on rape prevalence had been physically violent to an intimate partner, and one in four admitted to at least one rape, the South African Medical Research Council found this year.

Poverty is another factor. As Amnesty International found in 2008, lack of reliable and affordable transport often hinders or prevents rural women from reaching health facilities that offer the comprehensive HIV and post-sexual assault services they need.

Rural women also struggle to have access to adequate food every day, essential in order to cope with the side effects of antiretroviral medication.

Effective HIV prevention is not easy, particularly when policies must tackle complex factors such as poverty and sexual violence to have real impact.

Removing discriminatory laws and policies, including legislation that criminalises HIV transmission, is an obvious step for governments to take.

They must quickly follow up by seeking to understand and correct the ways that policies and practice contribute to gender disparities, including in access to health services and vulnerability to violence.

25 Nov International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
01 Dec World AIDS Day
06 Dec Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre
10 Dec International Human Rights Day

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – 25th November

November 25 was declared International Day Against Violence Against Women at the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia, July 18-21, 1981. At that Encuentro women systematically denounced gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. November 25 was chosen to commemorate the violent assassination of the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa) on November 25, 1960 by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. In 1999, the United Nations officially recognized November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The “feminist encuentros” are conferences of feminists from Latin America who come together every 2-3 years in a different Latin American country in order to exchange experiences and to reflect upon the state of the women’s movement. Sexuality and violence in their wide ranging forms and contexts have always been included in the wide ranging themes of these gatherings. These encounters have stimulated the creation of regional networks, workshops, video and radio programs, women’s studies curricula, and a growing number of women’s documentation centers throughout the region which are dedicated to collecting and making available information about the history and priorities of the women’s movement. They have also provided a space for formulating and discussing the focus of a growing number of women’s magazines and newsletters, which contain articles, analysis and reports of the wide ranging actions being undertaken by women throughout the region.

Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dedé, were born in Ojo de Agua near the city of Salcedo, in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic to Enrique Mirabal and Maria Mercedes Reyes. The Mirabal sisters – “Las Mariposas (the Butterflies)” – were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to Trujillo’s dictatorship. They were repeatedly jailed, along with their husbands, for their revolutionary activities toward democracy and justice. On November 25, 1960 three of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa were murdered along with Rufino de la Cruz by members of Trujillo’s secret police. The three women were being driven by Rufino to Puerto Plata to visit their imprisoned husbands. The bodies of the three sisters were found at the bottom of a precipe broken and strangled. The news of their murders shocked and outraged the nation. The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement. Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961 and his regime fell soon after.

The sisters have become symbols of both popular and feminist resistance. In the years since their deaths, the Mirabal sisters have been commemorated in poems, songs and books. An exhibition of their belongings has been mounted at the National Museum of History and Geography, a stamp in their memory has been issued and a private foundation is raising money to renovate a family museum in their hometown. On March 8, 1997, International Women’s Day, a mural was unveiled on the 137-foot obelisk (that Trujillo had erected in his honor) in Santo Domingo. It depicts the images of the four sisters. The painting on the obelisk is entitled “Un Canto a la Libertad” (A Song to Liberty).

For more information see Julia Alvarez’s fictional account of the Mirabal sisters in her 1994 novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies;” Bernard Diederich’s book “Trujillo: The Death of the Dictator;” and “The Mirabal Sisters,” in Connexions, an International Women’s Quarterly, No. 39, 1992.

World Aids Day – 1st December

World AIDS Day is observed every year on December 1. This day marks the beginning of an annual campaign designed to encourage public support for and development of programs to prevent the spread of HIV infection and provide education and promote awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. It was first observed in 1988 after a summit of health ministers from around the world called for a spirit of social tolerance and a greater exchange of information on HIV/AIDS. World AIDS Day serves to strengthen the global effort to face the challenges of the AIDS pandemic.

Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre – 6th December

On Wednesday, December 6, 1989 a 25 year-old man, Marc Lepine, walked into the University of Montreal’s School of Engineering Building at about five in the afternoon, with a .223 calibre semi-automatic rifle. He began a shooting spree during which he murdered fourteen women and injured thirteen others: nine women and four men. Marc Lepine believed it was because of women students that he was not accepted to the engineering school. Before killing himself, he left an explanatory letter behind which contained a tirade against feminists as well as a list of nineteen prominent women, whom he particularly despised.

The fourteen women who were murdered in the massacre were: Anne-Marie Edward, Anne-Marie Lemay, Annie St. Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Daigneault, Barbara Maria Klueznick, Genevieve Bergeron, Helen Colgan, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Michele Richard, Natalie Croteau and Sonia Pelletier.

These women became symbols, tragic representatives, of the injustice against women. Women’s groups across the country organized vigils, marches and memorials. There was an increase in support for educational programs and resources to reduce violence against women. Both federal and provincial governments made commitments to end violence against women. In 1991, the Canadian government proclaimed December 6th National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In 1993, an organization calling itself the Dec. 6 Coalition set up a revolving fund for women leaving violent situations to establish themselves and their children in a safer, more secure environment. Also in 1993 a campaign called Zero Tolerance was launched offering men the opportunity to show solidarity with women against violence against women. As a direct result of the massacre, several mothers of the victims began groups to restrict gun laws and promote awareness of the continued violence against women.

International Human Rights Day – 10th December

On December 10 peoples and states the world over celebrate the adoption, in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this landmark date in contemporary history, the nations of the world joined together to try and bury, once and for all, the spectre of genocide raised by the Second World War. This document was one of the first major achievements of the United Nations and provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments to follow. Resolution 217A (III) by the General Assembly, proclaims the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…” Organizations and individuals use Human Rights Day as an opportunity to both commemorate the signing of this historical document and to promote the principles which are enumerated throughout the document. Human Rights Day, according to High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, is “an occasion to demonstrate that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not theoretical or abstract.”

From Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership