Developing Countries Pledge To Empower Women, Protect Them From Poverty, Disease, Including HIV/AIDS
Wealthy and developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America on Tuesday at the Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on the Advancement of Women in Putrajaya, Malaysia, pledged to "rescue women" from poverty, disease and war, as well as ensure "greater political voice" for women, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. Government ministers and representatives from 84 of the 116 NAM member nations issued a declaration calling for extensive measures to increase women's participation in government and business and protect them from war, physical and sexual assault and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, according to the AP/Yahoo! News (Yoong, AP/Yahoo! News, 5/10). The 50-point declaration outlines specific concerns in nine areas for women, including health, education, poverty and economic development, power and decision-making, media and communication technology, armed conflict, violence, disaster situations and gender mainstreaming (Xinhuanet, 5/10). In a message to the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there has been "tangible progress" for women in areas such as fertility rates, life expectancy and education. However, he said women still face challenges, including an increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases among women and the trafficking of women, according to the AP/Yahoo! News (AP/Yahoo! News, 5/10). Malaysia on Monday proposed establishing a NAM Centre on Gender and Development that would work to improve women's empowerment through lifelong education, the Bernama Daily Malaysian News reports (Muhammad, Bernama Daily Malaysian News, 5/9).
More Women Affected by HIV/AIDS
An increasing number of women in Africa and Asia are contracting HIV, often because of forced sex, AIDS advocates said at the meeting on Monday, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. According to Marina Mahathir, president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, 57% of HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and the number of HIV-positive women in East Asia has increased by 56% over the past two years. "There is a growing female face in the global HIV/AIDS pandemic," she said, adding, "With the many responses of countries in terms of prevention, treatment, care and support, women are rarely able to benefit from them" (AP/Yahoo! News, 5/9). The declaration affirms that many women have difficulty accessing health care services, and it calls for governments to implement "appropriate policies for women, particularly those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS" (AFP/IranMania, 5/11). Women in resource-poor settings have an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because they "find themselves using sex as a commodity in exchange for goods, services, money, accommodation and other basic necessities," Marina said. She said that governments must improve sex education, increase access to female-controlled contraceptives, such as female condoms, and help women become more financially independent in order to curb the spread of the virus among women (AP/Yahoo! News, 5/9). Ministers at the meeting also said that sex education in schools is an effective way to prevent HIV among women and address "gender power relations" (AFP/IranMania, 5/11).
HIV/AIDS Treatment for Women
Many HIV-positive women do not access treatment, including antiretroviral medication, because their AIDS-related symptoms are misdiagnosed, Marina said. Many physicians and researchers are not aware of women-specific HIV/AIDS symptoms, such as gynecological problems, and therefore do not properly diagnose HIV-positive women, the Bernama Daily Malaysian News reports. "If doctors are used to seeing men, they may not see the same manifestations in women," she said, adding, "There should be studies on this and awareness that sexual and reproductive health and its link to HIV is an area that is being missed in many countries. This is a missing link for women that needs to be addressed." Marina also said that stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease needs to be "rooted out." Governments can help protect women and girls from HIV/AIDS by improving education and reproductive health services, passing legislation regarding domestic violence, reducing poverty and ending child marriages, according to Marina (Oorjitham, Bernama Daily Malaysian News, 5/9).
"As we look back on the past decade, one thing stands out above all else: We have learned that the challenges facing women are not problems without solutions," Annan said, adding, "If we are to change the historical legacy that puts women at a disadvantage in most societies, we must implement what we have learned on a larger scale." Although Malaysian Women's Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil called Tuesday's declaration a milestone, she said, "Equal rights for women is still more an ideal than reality." Shahrizat added, "We have to keep women's progress on our radar screen" (AP/Yahoo! News, 5/10). The declaration will provide "more concrete actions" to promote women's advancement and complement the Platform for Action adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, according to Cambodian Women's Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi, Bernama Daily Malaysian News reports. "With the NAM countries' diversity, different challenges and experiences, this Putrajaya Declaration will serve as a driving force to push all NAM countries forward to serve the interests and needs of women," she said on Tuesday (Bernama Daily Malaysian News, 5/10).