|Reproductive Health and Rights: A Vital Strategy in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS|
Summary: Statement delivered by Adrienne Germain, President, International Women's Health Coalition, before the Thirty-Eighth Session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development, New York, April 4, 2005 (2 pages).
Reproductive Health and Rights: A Vital Strategy in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good afternoon. Distinguished delegates, the International Women's Health Coalition deeply appreciates the vast majority of delegations that have acknowledged today that universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, and to comprehensive sexuality education, are essential to prevent infection in girls and women. Further, we endorse the call for an additional target under the MDG for Maternal Health—namely, universal access to reproductive health.
This after all was agreed in Cairo in 1994 and has been reaffirmed time and time again since 1994. Yet the face of HIV/AIDS, acknowledged so powerfully by the Secretary-General years ago, is increasingly female—and increasingly young. We in the international community, governments, the UN system, and civil society must move forward much faster to turn the words of ICPD into real investments in sexual and reproductive health, in protecting the human rights of women, including sexual and reproductive rights, and in achieving gender equality and women's empowerment.
In his World AIDS Day message on December 1, 2004, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said that "prevention methods such as the 'ABC' approach—Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms—are good but not enough to protect women where gender inequality is pervasive. We must ensure," Dr. Piot emphasized, "that women can choose marriage, decide when and with whom to have sex, and successfully negotiate condom use." Equally important, we must educate and encourage boys and men to be responsible in their own behaviors, to respect the rights of girls and women, and to educate and persuade their sons, and other men, to do likewise. We must also act much more firmly and consistently to promote and protect the human rights of women living with HIV/AIDS, particularly their sexual and reproductive rights.
Before ICPD, the population field focused mainly on fertility control; demographers were its primary experts; and family planning was the main solution. For years, women's health and rights activists, who knew women's realities, argued for a wider paradigm. The ICPD provided an opportunity for debate and a new global consensus on a broader reproductive health and rights approach, together with investment in programs to achieve gender equality, women's empowerment, human rights, and poverty alleviation. We also acknowledged that fulfilling adolescents' rights to sexuality education and health services should be a high priority.
In a very similar way, HIV/AIDS prevention policies and programs must now be reconsidered. Prevention has focused largely on outreach to high-risk groups and narrow HIV/AIDS messages about the disease, abstinence, and condoms. Feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic clearly indicates that these interventions, though essential, are woefully inadequate to protect girls and women.
Ten years after the ICPD paradigm shift in population policy, we need another paradigm shift—this time in HIV/AIDS policies—to prevent infection in girls and women, and also to ensure their equitable access to effective testing, care, and treatment.
The International Women's Health Coalition suggests two primary shifts in HIV/AIDS policies to make prevention for all a reality. The first is to include, in every national and global HIV/AIDS strategy, priority investment in sexual and reproductive health and rights services for the vast majority of girls and women who are not core group transmitters. The second policy shift is to promote and support comprehensive sexuality education, not just HIV/AIDS education. Such education promotes gender equality, respect for human rights, and skills development as well as information transfer.
Both of these policy shifts are vital to help today's girls and women protect themselves, and to change boys' and men's behaviors that put girls and women at risk. They are also fundamental in preparing communities, individuals, and health and education systems for the crucial processes of testing and ultimately introducing microbicides and vaccines. Together, these two policy shifts will help achieve not only short term outcomes, but also long term social changes in gender relations and respect for sexual and reproductive rights, without which the pandemic cannot be contained.
Let us all recommit ourselves to addressing the underlying causes of the pandemic. Let us join currently separate communities in partnership: the HIV/AIDS community, women's health advocates, human rights activists, and the reproductive health community. Let us each give the leadership, time, and resources needed. The payoff will be huge—millions of lives, families, and even societies, saved.
Click here to download IWHC's official statement, as submitted to the Commission on Population and Development.