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High Level Consultation of Influential Leaders and Women


One day consultation on the sexual and reproductive health

and rights of women and girls living with HIV

24th February, 2011

New York
55th Commission on the Status of Women

Thanks for the invitation to speak in this panel.

I just want to thank UNAIDS for making the effort of including

women living with HIV, our participation is not a given, and also
wanted to thank Michel Sidibe for championing this kind of work, we
know these are not easy times for women and HIV.

Today I want to share, 3 important topics related to sexual and

reproductive health and rights of women living with HIV and women
at risk of being infected.

• The first one, related to the integration of sexual and

reproductive health and rights and HIV.
• The second, about the participation of women and how we
envision this;
• And the third, what I am asking you as leaders of UNFPA, UN
Women and UNAIDS.

1) Integration of SRHR services with HIV

Sexual and reproductive health and RIGHTS for women living with
HIV and women at risk of being infected is not happening at country

This lack of integration has at least 2 consequences:

• The denial of our sexual and reproductive rights (human

rights) as women living with HIV.
• The missed opportunities for other women at risk of getting
infected, to be diagnosed earlier.

In many countries, women can benefit of HIV prevention ONLY:

…being a sex worker

…a drug user
…or being pregnant

Creating and implementing HIV prevention programs for women,


that go beyond the prevention from mother to child transmission is

very important. We know about your commitment with maternal
and child health, but unfortunately, not all women will be included in
these programs. We need programs that acknowledge and take
women’s rights in a respectful and serious way.
Maybe we don’t need more consultations in New York, but more
Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs for young women and
girls, and programs that reach women in a life-long and holistic

The same need of integration relates to services for victims of

violence and HIV services. Gender Based Violence is recognized by
WHO as a cause for HIV, this is good, but we just want to highlight
that HIV is also a cause for increased violence for women.

There are many other specific topics in the integration of HIV and
sexual and reproductive health and rights which my colleagues
here, women living with HIV and women advocates will speak about.

2) Participation of women

The second topic I will talk about is PARTICIPATION.

Of course participation is translated in activities like this, where we

have a place and speak as women, especially women living with
HIV. But, I think you will agree with me and other women on this
room, on the fact that participation is much more than being
present in a meeting.

We would like to hear concrete translation of documents like the

“UNAIDS Agenda for women and girls”, into ACTIONS, resources,
ongoing involvement and consultation with women.

We need to make sure grassroots; positive and young women are

included in all process, especially access to funds, Universal Access
regional consultations and in the programming of National AIDS

At global level, we have expectations to hear more about the

UNAIDS Business plan for women; we have not heard nothing more
about that. What’s happening?

A second topic related to participation, is the UN HIV/AIDS High

Level Meeting which will happen in June 2011. We heard the report
of the Secretary General is already being prepared. We hope the
person who will do this, will consider women’s issues a priority as
we do.

But just in case he or she doesn’t know, we want to let you know

that some of us (women living with HIV and women advocates) are
preparing a more consultative process, on line, which will focus on
women. This will include voices of women from the grassroots levels
(including women living with HIV), because we are not sure women
will be invited to the regional consultations. Of course we will share
this report globally using social media and you will not be able to
miss it.

3. What we need from you as global leaders

To all of you
On the preparation and review of the Universal Access and UNGASS
reports, I want to ask…

Could it be that the Universal Access and the UNGASS indicators are
so biomedical that they don’t capture the realities of women living
with HIV or women at risk, (apart from pregnancy, sex work and
drug use)?

We heard the proposed indicator of Intimate Partner Violence, which

would better inform about the growth of the epidemic among
women, was rejected again.

There are other topics which are key for us, for example cervical
cancer, violence among women living with HIV and at risk of HIV, all
of these, would give a better understanding of the epidemic among
women, and we would overcome the epidemiological myth, that
which says that women with HIV are not so many as men.

You might be aware of the phenomenon of how fast HIV is falling out
of the aid agenda (given the global economic crisis), sadly this is
happening exactly as women are falling out of the HIV agenda.


Please continue to advocate for the integration of sexual and

reproductive services that acknowledge sexual and reproductive
rights of women living with HIV and women at risk of getting
infected, beyond maternal and child health. The lives of many
women depend on this.

To UN Women

Dear Michelle Bachellete, you received a letter from women’s

groups, we really would like to receive a written response as soon
you have time to do it.

We have great expectations of the role of UN Women as an agency

which will drive the mainstreaming process of gender into the UN

agencies and monitor accountability.

We really hope the UN Women will not be understood as the one

agency, which has to deal with women’s issues alone. The creation
of UN Women is a huge advantage, but it should be never used as
an excuse by other UN agencies to stop doing the work with and for
women. This includes UNAIDS. The responsibility for gender equality
and gender equity is for all UN agencies, governments and the
diverse civil society movements.


Dear Michel Sidibe, I wanted to highlight the fact that we are happy
with the agenda for women and girls and your leadership on
developing this. Thank you.

This is a good a document, but is it more than a document? Your

last letter to partners, said so, that many countries made it

Well, we at the grassroots levels, women living with HIV and

women’s groups as experts on our health, we might have a different
perspective: We are ready to speak, and to work, and we hope
people are ready to listen and to provide support. We know about
the commitment of UNAIDS at global level, but at country level,
maybe we need to strengthen this advocacy.

In many countries, the financial support is going only towards

groups of men who have sex with men (especially those with
“concentrated epidemics”), I am not saying this is wrong, I am just
asking, which is the best way to avoid more HIV infections among
women? Do we agree with the investment on men and boys? Yes we
do, but just as the logistical note for this meeting said:

“…the most economical and direct route for tickets”, the same way,
“…the most economical and direct route for women’s
empowerment” is women!

Once we have been supported, we will reach out to men, we

promise. One example of this is the Mama’s Club in Uganda, which
now has a positive father’s mentors club. There is a research of
Population Council that shows that this is the best way to work.

If you being empowering men, one side effect could be that their
power is further increased, and many will follow the temptation of
keeping it for themselves, while women will share power with the
communities around, just like the Population Council study

And what kind of support do women need?

If you print my personal account of how I survived rape and HIV (or
that of any other woman living with HIV), that is one thing; I will feel
your solidarity and be thankful for it, but if you direct funds towards
organizations of women living with HIV and women at the
grassroots, right there, in the middle of our realities at country level,
that is a different one, more practical and more real.

An example of this is these drawings, body maps done by women

living with HIV in Bolivia. The publication of this document was
possible thanks to the financial support of the Global Fund project in
Bolivia (Round 3) and UNFPA Bolivia.

There is also this policy brief, prepared and signed by groups of

women living with HIV around the world

asking you and other global actors to support our work, in other
words: “practice what you preach”, just in case you need to leave
the meeting earlier, I wanted to give you a copy as gift, please read
it whenever you have time.

And just to remind the wonderful logo/idea of the Women Deliver

Conference (Washington DC, 2010):

Invest on women, it pays

Thank you.

Gracia Violeta Ross

Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (REDBOL)

Dr. Michel Sidibé (Executive Director UNAIDS); Ms. Irene Chan; Dr.
Michelle Bachelet (Executive Director UN Women); Dr. Babatunde
Osotimehin (Executive Director UNFPA); Ms. Gracia Violeta Ross
(Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS)