It's been said that girl power is Africa's own vaccine against HIV, and that should be true for the whole world," stated Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, during the organization's first-ever Special Session on HIV/AIDS in late June. But it was the global women's movement that successfully pushed to turn that rhetoric into a set of specific commitments from world leaders to address gender discrimination as the central issue fueling the spread of HIV/ AIDS. As a result, the conference's Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS includes some of the strongest gender empowerment language of any international statement to date. "Until now, getting anyone to perceive this as a gender issue has been an uphill battle," says Madhu Bala Nath, who is an adviser to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
It's about time. According to recent UNIFEM statistics, 47 percent of all people infected with HIV are women; women account for 60 percent of new HIV infections worldwide; over half of all HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa are women; and sub-Saharan girls are five times more likely to be infected than boys. "In many societies," says Monica Sharma, an adviser to UNAIDS, which has been tracking the epidemic through the U.N., "women are relatively powerless to negotiate safe sex with a partner," often leading to coerced sex and sexual violence. Both traditional and exploitative practices, such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, incest, forced prostitution, and rape (including marital rape) are contributing factors to the gender dimension of AIDS. Often, unmarried women do not receive HIV/AIDS information because of the widespread belief that a woman should be uninformed about sex until marriage. Then there's the myth in some communities that sex with a virgin will cure HIV, which is also partially responsible for high-infection rates among girls and women.
"The key gain for women is the unqualified championing of their right to control decisions pertaining to their sexuality," says Kathleen Cravero, M.D., deputy executive director of UNAIDS. The declaration calls for the involvement of women's and girl's groups in recognition of the fact that they are strong, positive actors working to reverse the epidemic. It mandates increased access to information, along with greater availability of reproductive technologies like the female condom and microbicides. The special economic needs of women caregivers are acknowledged, and on the issue of mother-to-child transmission, the declaration also states that HIV-positive mothers should receive anti-retroviral treatment (such as AZT), as well as counseling during and after their pregnancy. "We fought hard for language that placed as much of a priority on keeping the mother alive as the baby," says Sharma.
The next stages include getting governments to draft national action plans and establishing a global fund to finance the campaign. According to Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM, if women remain as involved in the decisions of the global fund as they were in negotiations over the declaration's language, "we will have learned from history and not be doomed to repeat it."
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.
The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .
10/30/2014 UPS Switches Pregnant Worker Policy Ahead of Supreme Court Case - The United Parcel Service (UPS) is changing its policy on light duty assignments for pregnant workers, even though the company will stand by its refusal to extend accommodations to a former employee in an upcoming Supreme Court case.
UPS announced on Monday in a memo to employees, and in a brief filed with the US Supreme Court, that the company will begin offering temporary, light-duty positions to pregnant workers on January 1, 2015. . . .
10/30/2014 North Dakota Medical Students Speak Out Against Measure 1 - Medical students at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences are asking North Dakotans to vote no on Measure 1, a personhood measure on the state ballot this fall.
The students issued published a letter in the Grand Forks Herald stating that they opposed Measure 1 in part because they are against "the government's taking control of the personal health care decisions of its citizens." Nearly 60 UND School of Medicine students signed the letter, citing concerns over the "very broad and ambiguous language" used in the proposed amendment, which has no regard for serious and life-threatening medical situations such as ectopic pregnancies.
Measure 1 would change the North Dakota state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. . . .