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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Tue Mar 21 11:55:03 2000
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 22:27:23 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: HEALTH-INDIA: 2000 UNAIDS Theme Gender Biased, Say Women Activists
Article: 91654
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2000 UNAIDS Theme Gender Biased, Say Women Activists

By Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS, 19 March 2000

MEXICO CITY, (IPS World Desk, Mar 19)—Women health activists in India have criticised the theme for this year’s global campaign to combat acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), charging that it is gender biased.

The criticisms were levelled soon after the United Nations department dealing with AIDS (UNAIDS) launched the international drive in New Delhi, the Indian capital, this month. The 2000 World AIDS Campaign has as its theme, Men Make a Difference.

What troubles the Indian activists is the total emphasis on male behaviour. By highlighting the role of men and their issues, it may result in women getting further marginalised and their spaces taken away, says Radhika Chandiramani, the director of Talking About Reproductive Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI), an independent health body.

According to Anjali Gopalan of the NAZ Foundation, a non- governmental organisation (NGO) that works with homosexuals, the consequences of such an effort has the potential of resulting in an uneven outcome. It has been lopsided from the word go, she observes.

For both Chandiramani and Gopalan, what is required is a healthier strategy that emphasises gender equality than a gender-targeted programme. It is a holistic approach that is needed.

UNAIDS officials, however, see this issue in a different light. Akhila Sivadas maintains that such a reaction stems from the apprehensions about how the campaign’s theme will be interpreted.

The theme paper of UNAIDS has been at pains to explain that there is no intention to exclude women, that the campaign is in fact motivated by a desire to better women’s capacity for sexual negotiation with their partner, says Sivadas, a spokeswoman at the UNAIDS office in India.

Furthermore, she feels, women need to take note of the central idea behind this international drive: that it is an effort to underscore the importance of men to take on responsibility in the fight against AIDS.

Adds Dominique De Santis, the press officer at the UNAIDS headquarters, This year’s World AIDS Campaign does not mean an end to prevention programmes for women and girls. Rather, the aim is to complement these by work which more directly involves men.

In his estimation, the current efforts to help women will be more effective when they are accompanied by parallel efforts directed at men. This push by UNAIDS to prevent the spread of the killer disease can be understood in light of the high numbers that link men as contributing factors to the epidemic. Since AIDS surfaced, over 70 percent of the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) infections world-wide have occurred through sex between men and women, 10 percent through sex between men, and a further five percent among people who inject drugs, 80 percent of whom are men.

In addition, a report released by UNAIDS for the launch of the global campaign reveals that HIV infections and AIDS deaths in men outnumber those in women on every continent except sub-Saharan Africa. Young men are more at risk than older ones, it notes. About one in four people with HIV is a young man under the age of 25.

Furthermore, it calls for greater attention to be given to the needs of millions of men, in particular to those living with HIV/AIDS.

By the end of last year, the number of victims provided a dismal picture about the impact of AIDS. Since the disease surfaced, 16.3 million people have died and currently, close to 33.6 million men, women and children are living with HIV or AIDS.

In 1999, there were 5.6 million new infections world-wide, of which 3.8 million were in sub-Saharan Africa, the worst hit region, and 1.3 million in South and Southeast Asia.

Through the current campaign, UNAIDS hopes to shift the focus to the way men have been perceived in relation to the disease. The time is ripe to start seeing men not as some kind of problem but as part of the solution, remarks Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS.

Male sexual behaviour will be one area that health activists will concentrate on in an effort to influence change during the campaign, given that men have more sex partners than women,

The objective is to get men to realise that they increase their own and their primary partners’ risk of ontracting HIV, a risk compounded by the secrecy, stigma and shame surrounding the resultant disease, AIDS.

Long distance truck drivers in parts of Africa, Central America and Asia will be among those who will be approached to change their behaviour, since they have been identified as having multiple sex partners and practising unsafe sex.

Male violence is another area due to be addressed, since it drives the spread of HIV through wars and the migration they cause, as well as through forced sex. Studies conducted by UNAIDS reveal that millions of men a year are sexually violent towards women and girls, and world-wide, close to one woman in three has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

Furthermore, the international drive also seeks to shape the way men relate to their families, by adopting positive behaviours and playing a greater part in caring for their partners and families.

This stems from what numerous studies world-wide have shown: Men generally participate less than women in caring for their children. This has a direct bearing on the AIDS epidemic, which has now left over 11 million children orphaned and in need of adult help to grow up clothed, housed and educated.

The choice of Asia to launch this year’s campaign is the outcome of the region having the potential to greatly influence the course of the global epidemic, according to the UN body. Currently, an estimated 6.5 million people are living with HIV in Asia, and the major force driving the epidemic has been attributed to heterosexual behaviour. The AIDS virus has been spread through truckers, traders, contract labourers, sailors and their sexual partners, many of whom are sex workers.

For Abha Joshi, of the Indian-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the male emphasis of this year’s campaign will be effective only if it includes men without any detriment to women.

Women should not take such hard lines on gender specific focus as we are generally the ones who keep insisting on gender focus most of the time, she says.

A departure from an inclusive stance, she adds, will contribute to a problem, exposing how shortsighted UNAIDS is, since suffering has no gender.