March 8, 2013
During a side event at the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on March 4, ministers from Ghana, Liberia, and Zimbabwe elucidated upon the problem of violence and infection in their countries. They recommended to advocates that the UN's CSW outcome document should emphasize the link between gender-based violence and HIV infections. The ministers urged that this document also should include information on governments providing effective measures to prevent violence against women as well as information on treating women who have been infected with HIV through sexual abuse. The inclusion of such passages in the final CSW document is still under discussion.
Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia's gender minister, declared that the CSW afforded a chance to lobby for action. She stated, "Increasingly, violence is being recognized as a cause and consequence of HIV, and that's important, particularly for women and girls."
Nana Oye Lithur, Ghana's gender minister, stated that, in spite of education, some Ghanaian women still find it challenging to negotiate contraception with their partners. Lithur said that there are still traditional practices in existence that compel women to marry a brother-in-law if her husband has died, as well as the belief that a woman needs to have sex with a stranger to expel the disease of a dead husband. Women are thus powerless and HIV is easily spread.
Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe spoke of the importance of education in addressing violence against women, emphasizing the needs of women living with HIV. She noted that rural women are especially vulnerable and need better support. In Zimbabwe, women carry babies on their backs and farm the fields using primitive tools for most of the day. They need to be empowered. Khupe declared, "Once you empower [women], issues of HIV and gender-based violence will be a thing of the past."
Sheila Tlou, director of the UNAIDS regional support team for east and southern Africa, told event attendees that gender equality was still a faraway dream for many. She exclaimed, "We need to change attitudes, even among women themselves. Women need to know their human rights." She declared that, unless gender equality is achieved, the UNAIDS concept of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths will remain an unfulfilled ambition.