VIENNA, 8 March 2004 (UN Information Service) -- On the occasion of International Women's Day 2004, UNIS Vienna hosted a Panel Discussion on "Women and HIV/AIDS: Advocacy, Prevention and Empowerment". The Discussion was held in cooperation with the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (CONGO) and the Vienna NGO Committee on the Status of Women. The Panellists included Dr. Elisabeth Berger from Aids Hilfe Wien, and Dr. Monica Beg from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), HIV/AIDS Unit. Introductory statements were made by Eleonore Hauer-Rona, a board member of CONGO and Head of International Council of Women (ICW), and Susanne Shaked, Chairperson of the Vienna NGO Committee on the Status of Women. Renate Henke, NGO Liaison for UNIS chaired and moderated the Panel Discussion.
In her statement, Ms. Hauer-Rona (CONGO) called for women worldwide to help create an environment that would facilitate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals laid out by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. She deemed education as the basic tool which would help break the vicious cycle of AIDS and ignorance. Ms. Shaked reaffirmed her NGO's commitment to continue its efforts towards fighting the disease.
Dr. Berger (Aids Hilfe Wien) then took the floor and made an informative presentation on the theme "Women and HIV/AIDS: Prevention and Empowerment." She presented an overview of the work of Aids Hilfe Wien and provided an in-depth picture of the spread of the disease in Austria. She pointed out a rate of one to two new infections per day in Austria, and spoke of the religious, moral, social and cultural barriers that HIV positive women faced in Austria. She revealed that the general perception was still "There is no need to talk about safer sex and the transmission of HIV when you are a good girl," and that affected women faced social marginalisation, lack of support and financial problems. She also informed the audience of the various workshops and prevention and education exercises undertaken by her organization.
Dr. Monica Beg (UNODC) then presented a global picture of the spread of the disease and discussed the situation in various parts of the world. In her presentation, she discussed the various problems faced by HIV positive women, and discussed various myths which make the task of education a more difficult one. She pointed out that research has proven that going to school is a "protective" factor, the enrolment of girls in school has decreased in the past decade in many high prevalence countries. She said that while twenty years ago, early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, women were rarely infected, now twenty years later, the figure is 20 million; i.e, almost 50 per cent of the total people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, now, are women. She pointed out that when it came to HIV/AIDS, both biology and society have worked against females. "Women are twice as likely as men to contract HIV from a single act of unprotected sex and they remain dependent on male cooperation to protect themselves from HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The Panel Discussion was followed by a lively question and answer session. Many participants who represented international NGO's and the media asked for more information, especially with regard to HIV/AIDS figures for trafficked women, and the importance of banishing the myths associated with HIV/AIDS.