International Aids Conference Taking Place in Toronto

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Media coverage here. Below is an excerpt from an essay by Dorothy Aken’ova, who writes:

… In many places, including northern Nigeria where I work, tradition and poverty still dictate that girls as young as 12 marry older, sexually experienced men. Across Africa, a woman’s right to choose whether and with whom to have sex is not respected. In South Africa, for instance, 30 per cent of women say their first intercourse was forced, and 71 per cent say they experienced sex against their will.

It is these rights violations that continue to fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. In Nigeria, 58 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS are female. In Africa, 77 per cent of all new infections among young people are occurring in girls. Globally, 7,000 girls and women are infected with HIV every day. In short, the world’s failure to make effective commitments to women’s health and rights has been commuted to a death sentence for far too many.

How did this happen? World leaders are comfortable talking about HIV/AIDS. But they shy away from sexual rights. Too many of us live and work in contexts where any phrase that includes S-E-X is taboo, where a girl is considered too young to know about sex but old enough to die.

Stopping new infections requires a comprehensive approach, not just abstinence until marriage or directives to be faithful or use condoms. We can slow the pace of this epidemic if we promote mutual respect between men and women. …

And here is an excerpt from the AIDS Notebook by Unnati Gandhi:

HIV as a weapon of war

About two dozen women huddled close to each other on couches and pillows in the conference’s Global Village yesterday as Anne-Christine D’Adesky described a gruesome but often unreported aspect of how the HIV epidemic is spreading in sub-Saharan Africa.

The intentional use of HIV and rape as weapons of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda, Chad and Rwanda have left hundreds of thousands of women and children recovering from attempts to decimate their populations, said the executive director of San Francisco-based Women’s Equity In Access to Care and Treatment (We-Act).

“The international community really needs to recognize and respond to the fact that rape and HIV are being used as weapons of war.”

Ms. D’Adesky said prevalence rates of HIV in women and children in war-torn northern Uganda, for example, are two to three times higher than the rest of the country, where upwards of 50 per cent of the country’s soldiers are HIV-positive, she said.

“Here you have a situation where you have global fund money coming in and you have international plans being rolled out but we’re not dealing with what we think is a major source of infection. ….. Mass rape and sexual violence are the real engines of the HIV epidemic and need to be addressed.”

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