|IWHC Statement at the United Nations 2006 High-Level Meeting on AIDS, June 1, 2006|
Summary: Statement delivered by Adrienne Germain, President, International Women's Health Coalition, at Roundtable 4 of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS, New York, June 1, 2006 (2 pages).
Regarding progress since 2001, I have a very simple point: We have failed utterly to control this pandemic. Since these negotiations began four weeks ago, 340,000 more people have become infected, and 200,000 more have died. None of our work for this high level meeting will matter unless governments reach consensus today on a powerful action oriented agenda.
This week we must re-examine and redesign our policy and our budget allocations. Answers to the four questions posed for these roundtables can provide a road map for action.
First, re-intensifying HIV prevention requires redefining it to catch up with the changing pattern of the pandemic. Prevention must be for all and by all. Yes, we must do more and better to reach men who have sex with men, sex workers, and intravenous drug users. But we must also broaden prevention to empower and protect girls and women who bear a disproportionate AIDS burden. A key to empowering and protecting girls and women is a strong health system that provides universal access to sexual and reproductive health services. Creating separate, vertical services or just "integrating" them into weak health services is not enough. Rather, we must strengthen our national health systems as the foundation for sustained comprehensive HIV/AIDS services.
Second, how do we translate information into knowledge, and knowledge into behavior change? We must provide information through comprehensive sexuality education that empowers young people. Such education helps young people learn about human rights, including gender equality, and develop the skills to treat each other with mutual respect. These programs provide girls with safe spaces, including school classrooms, free from harassment and discrimination; alternatives to early marriage; and activities to help build their self-esteem and confidence. These programs help boys learn to take responsibility for their own behaviors and to understand that violence and coercive sex are not their birthright. Research shows that this approach to sexuality education changes behavior. It empowers young people.
Third, how can we overcome financial bottlenecks? I would make one point rarely made. Much of the work to change the factors that drive the pandemic must happen outside the health sector and far beyond HIV/AIDS budgets. We can maximize the return on HIV/AIDS-specific resources by requiring every sector to have clear targets for gender equality that are closely monitored and enforced.
Finally, how can governments, multilateral and bilateral organizations further engage civil society? First, by including those civil society groups led by, or representing, those most at risk—especially women and youth. Second, these groups desperately need financing. You cannot go on expecting volunteer labor. Third, partnerships with civil society require that governments and international agencies respect civil society autonomy and provide access to the policy table.
Let me end where I began. Today is the day for firm commitment to concrete actions—for solidarity across diversity to successfully combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic.