Observers are streaming in to the Interactive Meeting with Civil Society at the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS. Convened to give civil society groups a voice in UN proceedings, the Interactive Meeting will examine "myths and realities" of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment. The meeting will highlight the concerns of the constituencies that have been insufficiently targeted in universal access efforts thus far — sex workers, sexual minorities, people who use drugs, and women and girls. I’ll add more information once the meeting gets underway.
11:46am: We’ve now heard from Gulnara Kurmanova, from the International Women’s Health Coalition, on barriers to access for sex workers, and from Leonardo Sanchez, from Amigos Siempre Amigos, on sexual minorities.
Kurmanova emphasized that basic human rights violations against sex workers compromise their access to health care (sex workers frequently report being unable to access anti-retroviral therapy and basic health care in detention centers after raids). Kurmanova called for decriminalization of sex work, but also noted that even in countries where sex work has been decriminalized, stigma and discrimination persist. And sex workers’ perspective should be taken into account in developing prevention programs.
Leonardo Sanchez noted that with sexual activity between men still illegal in two-thirds of countries worldwide, the stage is set not only for marginalization and discrimination but also violence against sexual minorities. He decried the "shameful exclusion of sexual minorities" in program planning and execution.
11:56am: Winnie Sseruma, speaking on the effects of HIV/AIDS on women and girls, emphasized economic empowerment of women to change social norms and promote women’s independence and leverage in negotiation. She also called for comprehensive sexuality education for girls, including condom negotiation strategies and "access to male and female condoms instead of just talking about it."
12:30pm: The floor was opened to statements from civil society representatives. A sex worker from Peru called out the lack of attention given to violence at the UN proceedings, particularly the manifestations of violence in sex workers’ lives. Women must be allowed to carry condoms, as men are, she added. She also emphasized the importance of the frame of "sexual rights," saying that, "A woman who has her sexual rights will find it easier to exercise all of her other rights."
Throughout the proceedings, speakers decried the travel restrictions on people living with HIV, in the US and in other countries. The meeting concluded with a call to abolish all HIV-related travel restrictions and the recommendation that the High Level Meeting never again be conducted in a country with a travel ban.
The concluding speaker also spoke strongly on behalf of sex workers’ rights, noting that sex workers are stigmatized while those who abuse them or from whom they contract HIV — often their husbands, brothers, fathers, or other family members — escape consequences and are even lauded. She also spoke strongly for the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender voices in planning programs and allocating resources.
The day at the UN started with a General Assembly plenary meeting, in which heads of state and other country representatives outlined their countries’ commitment to HIV prevention and care for those already infected.
Tomorrow I’ll be blogging from panel discussions on gender equality and AIDS and on PEPFAR. Stay tuned for more reactions to the UNHLM from SIECUS, too!