Meeting Global Challenges: Healthy Women, Healthy World
IWHC's Fifth Annual Gala, January 19, 2006
Thank you to all of you, friends of the Coalition, for making this another astonishing success for us. I have been Chair of this wonderful organization for three years now and yet a great many of my friends still don't quite understand what this IWHC is all about, and why I spend most of my non-writing time supporting it.
Well, quite simply, nobody else does what we do. We have one foot on the ground in countries as various as India, Nigeria, Peru and Pakistan to name just a few, helping women in all of those places secure equal health and equal rights through grants that we give to programs that we know work.
But we are about more than giving grants. Our amazing staff and our board travels to each of these places where we have work on the ground and gives technical advice and support.
Our other foot, because we have two feet, is in the corridors of power. Power and policymaking from Congress and the World Bank to the United Nations, the Coalition has been helping to shape global health policy for two decades now. We fight on behalf of and often with, those unable to reach those centers of power so that they, our sisters, aren't forced to have more children than they want and can decently raise. We fight for their basic right to deliver their babies safely.
We are the trusted partner of both, the powerful and the powerless. We are small but we are strategic and very smart. And thanks to you tonight we have raised one-sixth of our total annual budget: one million dollars. Thank you so much.
Our theme this evening is "Stand Up and Speak Out." It sounds like a Bob Marley song but it is what we hope you will do when you leave here tonight because we need your voice to strengthen ours. Because there is something very wrong in the way that the world is waging war against the AIDS pandemic.
Since 2001 we have known that AIDS has a woman's face. Secretary General Kofi Annan said so from this same podium two years ago. And each time we go out in the field we see that. And yet AIDS leaders, donors, and policy makers alike, still seem stuck in an old grove, attacking AIDS as if it were still largely a disease that strikes gay men, drug users and sex workers. The facts belie that approach. Approximately 7 thousand girls and women are infected with HIV each day. And that is fourteen times the number of people we have in this room.
And we are not only speaking about sub-Saharan Africa any more, the so-called second wave countries—Russia, China, Ukraine, India—in all those countries the victimization of women and girls is slipping out of control. Monogamous housewives who are infected by their promiscuous husbands have become among the most AIDS threatened population in many parts of Africa and Asia.
A great many big words have been thrown at this problem, but words without actions ring hollow. We need to re-orient our present strategies. We know that the Administration's ABC approach-Abstinence, Be faithful, and Use condoms-does not work for women. In the real world men do not use condoms and are not faithful all the time. Not all people practice abstinence, an option that is not available to most women and girls. That is reality.
So what will work? An effective, an effective microbicide, for one, would put the power of prevention in women's own hands. There is inadequate funding for this and for other women-controlled protective technologies like female condoms.
Another important development would be strong encouragement for widespread voluntary testing and counseling so that people would know their status. An astonishing 95 percent of AIDS carriers are not aware of the fact, so inadvertently perhaps they are continuing to spread it.
We must also declare zero tolerance for sexual coercion, violence against women, and child marriage practices. Those are the things that are raising the rates of infection in girls and women around the world. Women represent over half the world's population. We are not a special interest group. Societies can not afford to lose a generation of mothers nor can we afford to raise their orphaned children.
Everything of course depends on leadership. Let's hear from other leaders—males in particular—with the same clear voice we will hear and have heard in the past from our honoree Jim Wolfensohn.
We are losing this war because men in all walks of life seem unwilling to change their old habits, which in an age of AIDS are lethal habits. Just as we asked our parents "Where were you during the war, Daddy?" our children and grandchildren will ask us, "What did you do about the AIDS pandemic?"
I am committed to the work of the Coalition because I see our work empowering, informing and giving voice to voiceless women as the best answer to that question. And thank you all for adding your voices to ours.
Read James D. Wolfensohn's keynote address>>