Intervention in the 36th UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board for the 2016-2021 Strategy

Thank you, Mr. President. I am Mabel Bianco from FEIM, Argentina, and I speak on behalf of the Advisory Group of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS-GCWA-, which I chair since March 2015.

I am grateful for the opportunity to express the suggestions and concerns from the Advisory Group in a special webinar held under the leadership of the Chair of the Gender Division, Malayah Harper and Chris Collins, Chief of the Community Mobilization Division, which we recently convened, to broaden the input from both groups in these consultations. And we hope to repeat it once the new document is out.

When we refer to the diversity of women and girls, we include all women: sexual workers, drug users, women with different gender and sexual identity, that is, lesbians, bisexuals and trans. We suggest that the Strategy adopts this, because we do not accept inexistent differences. That is how our Advisory Group is formed.  

I restate the need to give great priority in prevention to adolescent women, because worldwide they make for around 60% or more of the new infections. They should have access to prevention information and methods but also they should have knowledge and self esteem that allow them to effectively use those methods and also to reject having unprotected sexual relations or simply denying doing it if they do not feel like. In order to achieve this, comprehensive sexuality education is required in schools and in the society and family to end the stereotyped roles of being a woman or a man. They must be able to participate in equal conditions to men representing adolescents and young people, where usually men predominate, although women and girls are more affected, regardless of their great leadership skills.

It is essential that the integration of sexual and reproductive health services is included in the response to the epidemic and the diversity of women are guaranteed the access to sexual and reproductive health services free of discrimination, specially those living with HIV and have different sexual practices and gender identities. The denial of these services or the provision of them based on discrimination or without their consent is a very frequent type of institutional violence in health services around the world, which must be  eliminated as it is a violation of women’s and girls’ rights.

Violence against women and girls is the main and most serious violation to the human rights of women and girls, which not only persists around the world but which has increased. Violence in all forms, not only sexual violence or rapes, is an increasing factor and it fosters the HIV vulnerability of women and girls, as it has been proved around the globe. Therefore, incorporating the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in the epidemic’s response is undeniable and it should be clearly stated in the Strategy.

But I’d like to stop here and consider with you the testimony of the African 19 year-old girl who lives with HIV and addressed this room yesterday. Her testimony touched all of us, but it is our duty to go in depth and suggest what else we have to do, apart from feeling moved and showing solidarity. We have to understand that this adolescent has suffered many violations to her rights, not only several sexual violations by her relatives and acquaintances. She was denied the right to health, to comprehensive health services, including psychological support and treatment, access to justice, because she did not have access to any type of claim procedure and proceeding in which the aggressors could be judged and punished.  On the contrary, she was told that due to cultural values, she should not denounce, but forgive. When cultural values violate or allow the violation of human rights, it cannot be admitted or used as excuse; they must change. If we can change the values on how we dress or “fashion”, we can also change the values of those who violate other people’s human rights!!

In case she had been pregnant, she should have had access to decide whether she wanted to continue with the pregnancy or not, have been supported in that decision and have been treated to stop that pregnancy without the risk of dying. Even if she had been treated immediately after the rapes she suffered, she should have received post-exposure prophylaxis, preventing her from HIV infection.Yesterday, while she was giving her speech here, how many girls like her were experiencing the same abuse and violation of their rights and did not receive, and will not receive, that treatment and access to justice.

Therefore, in order to pay homage to this young girl and thousand of girls who are raped and abused every day all over the world, we must include in the Strategy these medical, sociological and legal actions that should be provided. That is respecting women’s and girls’ human rights, something that frequently generates discussion and even rejection in these international forums, but which today, thanks to the testimony given by this young girl yesterday, we can understand without denying what every girl, woman, boy or man must enjoy: the respect of their rights, regardless of their sexual orientation, age, sex, place of residence and any other characteristic.

This implies empowering women and girls, a word often easily pronounced, but which it is not always understood in all its dimensions as it happens with women’s equality, which means more than having some women presidents, prime ministers or any other women in a decision-making position.

Most women and girls, that is half of the world’s population, cannot decide on basic issues, like whether to have children or not, when to do it, how many they want to have, and with what spacing, with who and when they want to have sexual relations, and wether they want to get married or not and with who.

This is sub-ordination of women and girls, which in the beginnings of the 90’s was considered as a greater vulnerability of women to HIV. Well, today it still remains the same.

Therefore, in order to not leave half of the world behind, we must include all these aspects clearly specified in the UNAIDS 2016-2021 Strategy, as the only way to put an end to the epidemic and to not leave anyone behind.

Thank you.

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