OPEN COMMUNICATION AND ADVOCACY NEEDED TO OVERCOME HIV/AIDS PANDEMIC, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

12 March 2001
WOM/1276

OPEN COMMUNICATION AND ADVOCACY NEEDED TO OVERCOME HIV/AIDS PANDEMIC, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

12/03/2001
Press Release
WOM/1276


Commission on Status of Women

Forty-fifth Session

9th Meeting* (AM)


OPEN COMMUNICATION AND ADVOCACY NEEDED TO OVERCOME HIV/AIDS PANDEMIC,

COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD


The Commission on the Status of Women this morning concluded its general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century" and began consideration of “Follow-up to Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions”.


Mari Simonen, Director, Technical Support Division, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said HIV/AIDS needed to be addressed openly and stressed the importance of open communication in overcoming the epidemic.


Yet information alone was not enough to change behaviour, she added.  Advocacy was needed to help create a supportive environment for social change through policies, programmes and legislation.  Information, education and communication was needed to encourage individuals to change their behaviour. Counselling and training were needed to bring about more effective interpersonal communications.


Aster Zaoude, Acting Leader and Senior Gender Adviser, Social Development Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said there was a need to permanently alter the norms, values and traditions fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially those perpetuating gender inequalities and discrimination against those living with the virus.  In the most affected countries “we need to ensure that the full power and authority of the State is brought to bear on the crisis”, she urged.


“Gender concerns need to be on the national AIDS agenda, with specific actions and resources dedicated to address the increasing impact on women and girls”, she continued.  The international community needed to do much more to help raise the estimated $3 billion per year needed for prevention and palliative treatments for up to half of those infected.  The billions required for anti-viral treatment could only be achieved by external financing if national health priorities were not completely distorted. 


At the same time, she stressed that the response to the epidemic only worked when governments allocated resources from their own budgets for prevention and care as had been demonstrated in Uganda and Thailand.


__________


*     The 8th Meeting was a closed meeting.


As the Commission took up “Follow-up to Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions”, Mexico’s representative said that at the national

and international level, the five-year review period for major United Nations Conferences and Summits had made it difficult to carry out comprehensive reviews.  She recommended spacing the reviews over 10 years. 


Statements were also made by the representatives of Syria, Burundi and Guinea.


Representatives of the African Caucus, Empowering of Widows in Development, Youth United for the Advancement of Women, Association of InterBalkan Women’s Cooperation Societies and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).


Rights of reply were made by the representatives of Israel, Syria and the observer for Palestine.


The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. to hear draft proposals submitted by delegations.


Background


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to conclude its general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".  The Commission was also expected to begin consideration of its item 5, “Follow-up to Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions”.


(For background details, see Press Release WOM/1263 dated 2 March.)


Statements


RANIA HAJ ALI (Syria) said her Government had adopted measures that would lead to equality between men and women in their economic and social lives and that covered all aspects of the recommendations made in the Beijing Platform for Action.  Women comprised 10 per cent of members of Parliament and over 26 per cent of lawyers and judges.  Progress had also been made in health care for women, and the number of centres dealing with maternal health amounted to 15 per cent of all health centres.  Concerning the labour market, Syrian law dictated that women should receive equal pay for equal work.  There were also a number of laws which ensured the elimination of any acts that endangered the social and economic status of women.


Despite this progress, she said it would be wrong for the international community to rest on its laurels, especially regarding women under foreign occupation.  The fundamental human rights of Palestinian women were undermined every day by Israel’s occupation of their land.  That was contrary to international human rights law.  They were the victims of the worst forms of discrimination, which deprived them of access to education and proper health facilities, as well as free movement within their lands.


She called on the Secretary-General to continue to highlight the plight of women who badly needed the help of the international community.  Addressing the situation of women and children who had been taken hostage during civil wars, she said the situation of women caught up in armed conflict should be of particular significance to the international community and not only when they were taken hostage.


She expressed the hope that the Commission on the Status of Women would play a more active and important role in facing the many challenges of gaining equal rights for women worldwide.


FRANCOISE MUGUNIRA (Burundi) said the Beijing Conference was held at a time when her country had been plunged into civil conflict, creating many widows, orphans and other vulnerable victims.  Despite those problems, Burundi had formulated relevant programmes and was doing its best to mainstream the objectives of the Platform for Action into the life of the country.  The National Programme was based on six objectives, which dealt with peace and culture, health, poverty, education, communication and women’s rights.  However, the ongoing conflict had not allowed for the true implementation of that programme.


The themes of the Commission’s agenda, she continued, were concerns shared by Burundi.  HIV/AIDS was the main cause of death in the country, and everything was being done to raise awareness among the population.  Committees had been set up in the workplace to fight the virus.  Gender equality was also of concern, and Burundi had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1991.  However two years later, the country’s political crisis had deepened.


She believed the situation in her country deserved particular attention because the civil war had not allowed the country to set up the necessary conditions required to combat HIV/AIDS.  Peace was a prerequisite to the elimination of discrimination against women.  Peace was indispensable in the fight for gender equality and elimination of the AIDS virus.


MARIE TOURÉ (Guinea) said the Commission on the Status of Women must continue its work with renewed momentum.  The interaction between that body and other organs must be encouraged to reinvigorate the Commission’s programme of work.  Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document were essentially, however, the responsibility of governments. Strategies, workshops and studies based on the Platform and outcome document had been put in place and implemented.  Her Government’s establishment of various gender-related committees was proof of its commitment to the Beijing Platform. 


She said no development plan could survive in a climate of insecurity.  Conflict in her subregion had had adverse effects in her country.  Guinea had been the victim of armed attacks on its southern borders since September

2000.  That had contributed to massive numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees and the propagation of HIV/AIDS.  Guinean women, however, were aware of what was needed and had mobilized to make their voices heard.  They should be supported in those efforts by the international community.


MARI SIMONEN, Director, Technical Support Division, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said one of her organization’s urgent priorities had been to enable girls and women to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.  Past interventions to curb the spread of the virus had tended to focus on promoting the use of condoms and reducing the number of one’s sexual partners.  The unequal social, economic and power relations between men and women –- particularly those between older men and young girls and boys –- had not, however, been adequately addressed.  Those relationships, together with physiological differences, determined the possibility of a man and woman being infected with HIV and their ability to protect themselves. 


She said low social status and economic dependence also prevented women and young people from controlling their own level of risk and limiting their exposure to infection.  With little power or influence, they were often unable to avoid unsafe sexual practices.  Also, if they were desperately poor, they might have little choice but to barter sex for their survival.  It was for those and many other reasons, that the UNFPA strongly supported efforts to empower women and increase their ability to negotiate safe sexual practices with their husbands and partners.  While an increasing number of women were working towards their own empowerment, and many were meeting with some success; they could not do it alone.  Men’s support was essential, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS.


She said that to turn the epidemic around, men would have to take responsibility for their actions.  The Beijing Platform for Action emphasized that responsibility, and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly had been even more explicit and emphatic.  The UNFPA was thus providing resources that both enabled debate about men’s roles and responsibilities to be undertaken, while providing services that helped meet the reproductive and sexual health needs of women.  HIV/AIDS needed to be addressed openly.   “One cannot stress enough the importance of open communication in overcoming the epidemic”, she said.


Yet, she continued, information alone was not enough to change behaviour.  Advocacy was needed to help create a supportive environment for social change through policies, programmes and legislation.  Information, education and communication was needed to encourage individuals to change their behaviour. Counselling and training were needed to bring about more effective interpersonal communications.  Access to services must be ensured, and research was needed to identify problems and potential solutions.  In addition, stronger efforts must be made to counter the discrimination and social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  Local communities must adopt a strategic outlook, and national governments must make community-level interventions the main thrust of national efforts.


ASTER ZAOUDE, Acting Leader and Senior Gender Adviser, Social Development Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said first and foremost there was a need to permanently alter the norms, values and traditions that were fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially those that perpetuated gender inequalities and discrimination against those living with the virus.  Secondly, among the most affected countries “we need to ensure that the full power and authority of the State is brought to bear on the crisis”, she said.  “Gender concerns need to be on the national AIDS agenda, with specific actions and resources dedicated to address the increasing impact on women and girls”.


Thirdly, she continued, “we need to upscale our efforts to mobilize adequate human and financial resources to effectively confront the epidemic”.  The international community needed to do much more to help raise the estimated $3 billion per year needed for prevention and palliative treatments for up to half of those infected.  The billions required for anti-viral treatment could only be met by external financing if national health priorities were not completely distorted.  At the same time, the response to the epidemic only worked when governments allocated resources from their own budgets for prevention and care as had been demonstrated in Uganda and Thailand.  Fourthly, she said that “we must work to mitigate the tremendous impact of the epidemic on the ability of governments to provide basic social services. 


Those challenges, she continued, were too daunting to be left to one agency or the other.  The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Group chaired by the UNDP would be the mechanisms for collaborative efforts.  Her organization had singled out HIV/AIDS as one of its top priorities, so it was redoubling its global advocacy rule to try and raise awareness and resources and to use innovative ways to do so. The UNDP’s five specific areas of focus at the country level were:  advocacy and policy dialogue; capacity development; mainstreaming; promotion of human rights; and information.


The representative of the African Caucus, which comprised women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and networks in Africa, called for urgent action on poverty, globalization and  HIV/AIDS.  She also recommended that the issue of conflict should be moved to the Commission’s programme of work for

2002 because of its importance regarding the lives of numerous African women and asked that the theme of power and decision-making be dealt with in the

2003 programme of work.  Regarding HIV/AIDS, she noted that health services were being cut back due to structural adjustment programmes and called on all governments, especially African governments to take steps to break the silence, target the most vulnerable persons and ensure that everyone had access to as much information as possible.


The representative of the Empowering Widows in Development, a United Kingdom-based NGO, deplored the scandalously inadequate attention paid to the impact of HIV/AIDS on widows and their children; that concerned both the social and economic consequences of the virus.  AIDS widows faced double discrimination because of their low social status as widows and also because of their association with the virus.  She cited cases of AIDS widows who were murdered after being accused of using witchcraft to kill their husbands.  Their killers often went free.  She called for the collective voice of AIDS widows to be heard at all levels and for their full participation in the formulation of policies and programmes concerning the virus.    


The representative of Youth United for the Advancement of Women (YAW) called for access to reproductive rights and sexual health education as well as an affordable means of contraception for young people.  For young women, gender and age discrimination were manifested in their vulnerability to being trafficked for sex.  She suggested that States cooperate fully with each other in order to eliminate sex trafficking and the exploitation of youth labour and emphasized the role of globalization in the growth of economies based on these two issues.  She also urged States to ensure that immigration and asylum legislation addressed the specific needs of women and young girl asylum seekers  who were threatened with persecution, oppression and violence.


The representative of the Association of InterBalkan Women’s Cooperation Societies said her organization implemented its aims through a variety of ways and means, well adapted to the specific economic, social and cultural background of the area, and specifically addressed to the issues that were of most concern to Balkan women.  The Association spearheaded international congresses with themes dedicated to matters of special importance for Balkan women and projects involving women’s organizations on development issues.  Other means of action, including increased international collaboration, could provide substantial support to her organization's endeavours and become a vital factor in its successes.


The representative of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) said that while the HIV/AIDS virus directly could infect all types of women, those who were 60 years and older continued to be an invisible population affected by the pandemic who were becoming increasingly isolated from society.  With the apparent increasing older population and the implications of the disease, it was therefore crucial that research on persons living with the virus be conducted on women of all ages.  In addition, the AARP supported research targeted specifically to the needs of older women living with HIV/AIDS and the needs of such women caring for family members with the virus.


Rights of Reply


In exercising his right of reply concerning the statement made by the Syrian representative, RON ADAM (Israel) said the Palestinian Observer and some other delegations had used a forum which should be dealing with the problems that women face, to attack Israel and to sell delegates lies and distortion about the plight of Palestinian women.  Palestinian women had often benefited from programmes dealing with women and business and women and technology, initiated by Israel in an attempt to alleviate their social and economic situation.  Last year, more than 500 of them came to Israel quietly and participated in training.  Israel was proud of this and had organized the programme because it realized that empowering women and eliminating poverty and increasing women’s economic status, would directly decrease hostility and terror.  He concluded by calling on Palestinians to give up terror and violence and to stop sending children with guns and stones to the frontline.  He assured them that Palestinian women would also benefit from the peaceful atmosphere which was so badly needed at the moment.


In her right of reply, RANIA HAJ ALI (Syria) said the statement made by the representative of Israel had become a feature at the Commission but the facts about the plight of Palestinian women due to the Israeli occupation, spoke for themselves.  The Secretary-General himself had highlighted Israeli human rights violations in his report.  The media brought images of oppression by Israeli soldiers every day in their news reports.  It should be remembered that half of those in the occupied territories were women.


SOMAIA BARGHOUTI, (Palestinian Observer) said that when the representative of Israel said that she had made a statement, he was out of order, because she had not spoken during the meeting.


Follow-up to Economic and Social Council Resolutions and Decisions


As the Commission took up item 5, entitled “Follow-up to Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions”, YAKIN ERTURK, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced a related note of the Secretariat containing a summary of recommendations addressed by the Council to its functional commissions; a summary of actions already taken by the Commission on

the Status of Women to implement those recommendations; and recommendations for further action which the Commission might wish to take, or which it might wish to address to the Council (document E/CN.6/2000/10).


Ms. Erturk also introduced a letter (document E/CN.6/2000/11) dated

4 October 2000 from the President of the Council addressed to the Chairperson of the Commission, which focused on the need to take into account the policy recommendations adopted by the Council in the work of its subsidiary bodies.  An annex to the letter contained a list of resolutions, agreed conclusions and decisions adopted by the Council specifically addressed to the functional Commissions.


      Statements


MS. SOSA (Mexico) said that in evaluating progress achieved in promoting the implementation and follow-up to United Nations Conferences and Summits at the substantive session of the Economic and Social Council last year, it was necessary to follow-up on the political agreements adopted to guide those processes.  Her country had stated its interest in maximizing the effectiveness of the review cycles.


At national and international level, she said the five-year review period had made it difficult to carry out comprehensive reviews.  She therefore recommended spacing the reviews over 10 years.  In addition, the functional commissions of the Council should focus their attention on conferences within their domains.  They could also make important contributions by keeping the Commission on the Status of Women abreast of gender mainstreaming within their own organizations.


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For information media. Not an official record.