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Women's Rights and Protections Topped Global AIDS Conference in Vienna

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By Alice Thomas-Tisdale, Special to NNPA from the Jackson Advocate –

VIENNA, Austria (NNPA) – The 18th Annual International AIDS Conference kicked off here Sunday, July 18, with more than 20,000 delegates being urged to make things happen “Rights Here, Right Now” by signing The Vienna Declaration supporting drug policy based on science, not ideology.

Among the top issues at this year’s conference is the examination of the rights of women in the context of HIV. Over 15.7 million women are living with HIV – half of all adults living with the virus. Women from every corner of the world are making their voices heard, especially Women ARISE (Access, Rights, Investment, Security, and Equity), the largest coalition of women’s organizations that have ever come together around HIV/AIDS.

Results of the CAPRISA 004 microbicide trial results were alo released during the conference. This study provides the first data demonstrating the effectiveness of an antiretroviral-based vaginal microbicide in reducing a woman’s risk of sexually transmitted infection with HIV and genital herpes.

“We welcome news of progress on a prevention tool that would give women greater control over their health and their lives,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, AIDS 2010 Chair, President of the International AIDS Society (IAS) and Director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, Canada. “Empowering women in this way as part of a broader agenda to ensure human rights brings us one step closer to the goal of universal access.”

Also, the Global AIDS Alliance released its report on Mobilizing Accelerated Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls by 2015. Political will and resource mobilization in tackling violence and HIV/AIDS are at the top of the list of a comprehensive response to violence against women and girls. The other six pillars are legal/judicial reform, health sector reform, education sector reform, community mobilization for zero tolerance, mass media for social change, and breaking the cycle of violence.

Among this report’s findings is that unless the global community addresses violence against women and girls, the multi-billion dollar fight against AIDS is sure to fail. It suggests the response must be comprehensive – taking a multi-faceted approach focusing both on prevention and care and recognizing the socio-cultural factors contributing to the spread of HIV and preventing many persons living with HIV/AIDS from accessing services.

“Around the world, one in three women are beaten, raped or coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Violence against women and girls is a primary barrier to achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment,” stated Lisa Schechtman, Policy Director, Global AIDS Alliance.

Joining Schechtman for a panel discussion on the political breakthrough report on Violence Against Girls and Women were Dr. Sabrina Bakeera-Kitaka, President of the Uganda Pediatric Association; Dr. Jantine Jacobi, Director, Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, UNAIDS; Ntombekhaya Matsha-Carpterntier, Senior Civil Society Officer, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, United Nations MDG Envoy for Africa.

Chaka Chaka also is internationally known as an accomplished singer of 20 albums. She stated: “I am a mother first. I have four boys, and I teach them it is unacceptable to abuse anybody.”

Chaka Chaka said she is appalled at adults encouraging youth to sell their bodies for profit. She also criticized African nations for hiding behind their culture to perform genital mutilation on young girls. “Our children should not be subjected to this. I don’t understand why women are tortured when they bring life into the world,” she lamented.

Consistent with the initiatives being recommended at this conference, is legislation currently being considered by the United States 111th Congress in what is known as H.R. 4594. If passed, this bill will direct the Secretary of State to establish the Office for Global Women’s Issues. This Office would help coordinate efforts worldwide to develop comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. The proposed legislation also would authorize funding for community-based organizations to implement violence prevention programs.

Alice Thomas-Tisdale is publisher of the Jackson Advocate, based in Jackson, Miss.

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