Accents from all corners of Latin America could be heard in a small city in Costa Rica on 20 and 21 November, when Heredia hosted the “High-Level Dialogue on Women, Human Rights and HIV”. The meeting was organised by ICW Latina and Hivos Latin America, with the financial support of the The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and drew more than 150 activists and policymakers from the region, many of them women, to discuss the demands of women living with HIV.
The inaugural panel was formed by Ana Helena Chacón (Vice-President of Costa Rica), Arely Cano (Regional Secretary of ICW Latina), Myrtille Danse (Regional Director of Hivos Latin America), Annelise Hirschmann (Regional Manager of the Global Fund), Alice Shackelford (Permanent Representative and Coordinator of the United Nations System of Costa Rica), César Núñez (Regional Director of UNAIDS), and Manine Arends (Director of the Hivos’ Programme “Accelerating regional actions in favour of the human, sexual and reproductive rights, and non-violence against women living with HIV”).
“We do not want that women [living with HIV] are only seen from a ‘diagnosis’ point of view, but from our needs”
-Arely Cano #DiálogoICW2017
— Hivos América Latina (@HivosAmLatina) 20 de noviembre de 2017
Violence against women and HIV: women aren’t dying from diagnoses
The relationship between violence against women and HIV was made evident from the very outset of the meeting. Myrtille Danse, echoing Arely’s remark above, pointed out, “Women are not dying from diagnoses, but rather from stigma, discrimination, and exclusion”. The Vice-President of Costa Rica added in agreement, “This is a fight that we are not willing to give up”.
Women living with #HIV face stigma and double discrimination in our societies. On the one hand, for simply being women, and on the other, because they are living with HIV, and this situation is reflected in pervasive exclusion that violates their rights. pic.twitter.com/ImgL8D6aHv
— Ana Helena Chacón (@anita_chae) 20 de noviembre de 2017
There was a detailed review of Latin American laws and policies, and the different gaps and challenges that still exist in the recognition of women’s rights and HIV, including all the different international agreements and commitments that have been signed by Latin American countries, but which often are not implemented.
Document: Actions to fulfil commitments
The meeting ended with the signing of the document “Actions to fulfil the commitments towards women living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean (Acciones para cumplir compromisos hacia las mujeres con VIH en América Latina y el Caribe)”, which lists the urgent steps that Latin American countries must take on order for women living with HIV to enjoy the fulfilment of all their human rights. You can access the document (in Spanish) here.
End violence against women and inequality
A clear conclusion of the meeting was that we will not reach the UN’s 2030 goals on Health and Equality if we do not end the other major epidemics in the region, namely: Violence against Women and Inequality. That implies we have to challenge the deep-rooted patriarchy and machismo that maintain and fuel these epidemics. And although that may sound very logical to many of us, it is definitely a paradigm shift for many people who still think that condoms and medications will be enough do to end HIV.
Yet we ended the meeting with transformational energy: countries view their commitments as homework; the women of ICW have forged new partnerships to continue their work; and all the organisations in attendance now know for certain that change will only happen if women are included in the process. As for Hivos, once again we are deeply grateful to have been a part of these transformations in Latin America.