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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON LINKING HIV AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Discusses Tackling Stigma and Discrimination Related to HIV, Cooperation between Agencies and the Provision of Services 
25 July 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning held a panel discussion on linking HIV and women’s rights.

Nicole Ameline, Chairperson of the Committee, said States parties had been given guidance and recommendations by the Committee on raising awareness among women and providing information on reducing transmission of HIV.  Women should be considered agents of change in addressing the spread of the disease and this came from education and public and political participation.  The Committee was dedicated to increase the flow of data on HIV and AIDS through its constructive discussions with Member States. 

Petra Lanz, Director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Office in Geneva and Moderator of the panel, thanked all those involved in the organization of the event, saying the face of HIV was now often a young woman as a group more prone to early marriage, violence and discrimination.  The purpose of the session was to make the link between HIV and women’s rights very clear. 

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said pride should be taken in progress made, with levels of HIV infections dropping.  HIV/AIDS was not a medical issue alone, and it had social, cultural and economic implications.  Empowering women provided the best possible protection.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women played an important role and had made a great contribution on important elements for a human rights framework on this issue. 

In a keynote address, Jan Beagle, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, said there was progress as seen in falling numbers of deaths, fewer infections and a record number of people accessing treatment.  Biological factors made women more vulnerable and this was exacerbated by social and cultural factors.  Discrimination against women and girls continued to fuel the epidemic and investment needed to be made in this group to effectively tackle the issue. 

Jacinta Nyachae, Executive Director of the AIDS Law Project, said in the African context it was necessary to ensure the implementation of international instruments to make sure that women got access to the treatment they needed.  The appropriate monitoring of women’s rights was also needed, such as in access to justice.  Consideration also needed to be made as to whether laws had been implemented. 

Theodora Oby Nwankwo, Committee member, said the Committee used the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to address the structural inequalities that made people vulnerable to HIV.  The Committee adopted a human rights based approach and it linked lowering HIV transmission to human rights.  In concluding observations and recommendations, the Committee urged States parties to address the historical and cumulative disadvantage of women in achieving substantive equality.

In closing remarks, Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, said the work done in UN Women was grounded in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  As a UNAIDS sponsor, UN Women took the engendering of the Convention into their work on that side.  Women needed to participate in the creation of policies and programmes on gender empowerment. 

Members of the audience raised points and asked questions about the transmission of HIV through regular medical services, the protection of sex workers and trafficked persons, the enforcement of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the situation of lesbian women as a vulnerable group. 

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 26 July around noon for the closing of the session. 

Opening Remarks

PETRA LANZ, Director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Office in Geneva, and Moderator of the panel, thanked all those involved in the organization of the event, saying the face of HIV was now often a young woman as a group more prone to early marriage, violence and discrimination.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had done a great deal to raise awareness of issues.  The inclusion of HIV issues in country reports had been disappointing.  The purpose of the session was to make the link between HIV and women’s rights very clear. 

NICOLE AMELINE, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said 34 million people today had HIV, 15 million of these women.  The majority of these lived in sub-Saharan Africa.  Women were disproportionately affected and vulnerable to HIV, and those suffering from the condition faced stigma in accessing services.  States parties had been given guidance by the Committee and it had been underlined that women were more vulnerable to infection unless they were given information on transmission.  States parties had been encouraged to increase the role of men in relevant measures and to adopt measures to stop discrimination against women.  Health policies should consider the human rights perspective.  On the post-2015 agenda, the heads of the human rights treaty bodies had issued a statement calling for specific human rights indicators to monitor progress towards sustainable development, stressing the importance of linking targets to responsibilities.  Women should be considered agents of change in addressing the spread of the disease and this came from education and public and political participation.  The Committee was dedicated to increase the flow of data on the spread of the infection through its constructive discussions with Member States. 

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said 25 million people had lost their lives to AIDS and 60 million people had become HIV positive.  There were, however, positive trends.  The rate of new infections seemed to be levelling off, a reflection of awareness raising.  Problem areas remained in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 20 people was infected.  Pride should be taken in the progress made.  HIV/AIDS was not a medical issue alone and it had social, cultural and economic implications.  It also carried tones of exclusion, poverty and discrimination.  Gender discrimination was at the heart of the greater vulnerability that women faced and when their access to education and employment was unequal then the threat they were exposed to was greater.  Female sex workers were 13.5 times more likely to be living with HIV.  Work needed to be done to address the marginalisation of women as the cause of this.  This was not a women’s issue, but a societal issue.  Empowering women provided the best possible protection.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women played an important role and had made a great contribution on important elements for a human rights framework on this issue. 

Keynote Address

JAN BEAGLE, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, said UNAIDS brought together the efforts of 11 system organizations, as this was so much more than a health issue, it touched development, human rights, gender and inequality.  The strategy through to 2015 was based on zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.  There was progress as seen in falling numbers of deaths, fewer infections and a record number of people accessing treatment.  Biological factors made women more vulnerable, though this was exacerbated by social and cultural factors.  Discrimination against women and girls continued to fuel the epidemic.  HIV was still the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age, and young women had infection rates twice as high as those of men.  Sex workers and drug users also had high prevalence rates.  Punitive laws were ineffective in halting the rate of transmission; instead they were pushing women underground.  Trans-women also constituted another population heavily affected, with one in five such women HIV-positive.  Advancing the rights of this group must be a priority.  Investments in women and girls were key to halting and reversing the epidemic.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women could be central in addressing the gender-related determinants of vulnerability to HIV, such as in the appropriate provision of health services. 

Linking HIV and sexual and reproductive health services was important as it allowed women to access all services in the same place.  It must be ensured that mothers had their rights as women upheld and they had access to accurate information to make informed choices.  There was clear evidence of a link between HIV and gender-based violence.  A social transformation was needed to end AIDS, one that shifted from punitive approaches to evidence and rights-based approaches.  Ending new HIV infections and AIDS related deaths would not be possible without attention to the social and legal contexts in which people lived.  It was necessary to reach out to other sectors to ensure people in decision making positions had correct information about HIV.  In shaping the post-2015 agenda the critical lessons learned from the global AIDS response, including the experiences honed from the Joint Programme’s multisectoral and rights-based approach, could be seen as a pathfinder for a transformative development agenda. 

Panel Discussion

JACINTA NYACHAE, Executive Director of AIDS Law Project, said in the African context it was necessary to ensure the implementation of international instruments to make sure that women got access to the treatment they needed.  Most countries would say they had appropriate laws, but it was necessary to consider the gender framing of such laws and to see what concrete actions could be taken in cases of discrimination.  The appropriate monitoring of women’s rights was also needed, such as in access to justice.  Consideration also needed to be made as to whether laws had been implemented.  Did laws cover the provision of sexual and reproductive rights for young people?  Could those under 18 years of age have access to testing?  Were governments putting into place structures to allow women to have access to maternal health services?  Issues of forced sterilisation were a concern and a gross violation of human rights.  This could push women away from accessing health services, despite the fact that they were provided free of charge.  Were women aware of the programmes available to them?  Were services accessible in terms of the parameters within which they were offered?  Were guidelines on HIV treatment shared?  What barriers were there to the access to medicines?  The criminalisation of the trade in sex and transmission of HIV also needed addressing as it was unhelpful. 

THEODORA OBY NWANKWO, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the Committee used the Convention to address the structural inequalities that made people vulnerable to HIV.  The Committee adopted a human rights based approach and the concluding observations of the Committee linked lowering HIV transmission to human rights.  In concluding observations and recommendations, States parties were urged to address the historical and cumulative disadvantage of women in achieving substantive equality.  Programmes and policies on HIV should be aligned with the principles of the Convention.   The Committee in its concluding observations and recommendations had required States parties to report on their efforts to address stigma on HIV, and refrain from blocking women’s access to HIV treatment, among other elements of ensuring access to health services and education.  The Committee had called for clear guidelines on getting informed consent before sterilisation and that practitioners completing such acts without permission should be subject to redress, and victims put in line for compensation.   It had been explained to States parties that they should protect women with HIV from discrimination by private actors.  Resources for programmes to educate adolescents on the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases were required and services for immigrant women also needed to be covered.  States parties should enhance the role of women as primary care providers, as the provision of services by men could itself be a barrier.  Cooperation with other United Nations organizations was also sought to share information. 

Closing Remarks

LAKSHMI PURI, Acting Executive Director of UN Women, said support was needed for women, including providing health care as well as financing for responses and strategies.  Substantial, sustained and predictable resources were needed.  HIV prevention and response must be grounded in human rights.  Which other international laws impacted on this topic?  The ongoing efforts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were welcome in their provision of concrete recommendations to States parties and guidance on HIV and AIDS issues.  The work done in UN Women was grounded in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  As a UNAIDS sponsor, UN Women took the engendering of the Convention into their work on that side.  More focus was needed on the factors that put women at risk of infection and the connections to empowerment and gender responsive budgeting and planning.  Intersectionality with women of all vulnerable groups should also be taken into account.  This was not simply an issue of access to services, instead it was related to access to human rights and justice. 

There was an urgent need for young girls to have access to sexual education and to draw attention to harmful practices that deprived women of their right to use contraception.  The recommendations of the Committee were a crucial tool in drawing attention to concerns and to request action to address the root causes of the epidemic.  The Committee had also recognised that women and girls were more vulnerable due to gender-specific norms and unequal power relations.  It was necessary to bring together all United Nations agencies and all their partners, and better engage civil society.  Member States should have programmes to promote employment for women with HIV.  Women needed to participate in the creation of policies and programmes on gender empowerment.  There needed to be continued support by UN Women to civil society to help prepare shadow reports and to support CEDAW on HIV/AIDS issues.

Questions and Answers

A member of the audience said the majority of health care provision was carried out by women.  It was necessary to link up on access to clean water for those caring for persons with AIDS.  A member of the Committee said from historical experience it was necessary to address sexual violence as a key determinant of transmission.  A member of the audience asked about instruments to be used against Member States that did not follow the recommendations.  Ms. Pansieri replied, saying the use of needles, not only in drug users, but also common medical practice was to be considered.  A question was posed from the internet as to how the Committee could become an instrument for the protection of sex workers.  Ms. Oby Nwankwo said the situation of sex workers could be addressed through concluding observations and recommendations.  There was also a complaint mechanism that could be accessed once national remedies were exhausted.  Members of the audience said lesbian women around the world needed to be married in order to survive and so also were at risk of infection and should be considered in policy provision.  A question from the internet was posed with regards to managing infection risks among trafficked women.  Ms. Lanz replied saying the provision of services and information should be made for all persons regardless of their immigration or legal status. 


For use of information media; not an official record

CEDAW13/026E