Category Archives: Civil Society

17 Lies We Need to Stop Teaching Girls About Sex

Lies

Whether it’s the constant fretting over Miley Cyrus’ influence on school girls or the growing (and troubling) tradition of Purity Balls, it’s clear that society has a fascination with young women’s sexuality — especially when it comes to controlling it. But what are we actually teaching today’s girls about sex?

 

Fueled by outdated ideals of gender roles and the sense that female sexuality is somehow shameful, there seem to be certain pernicious myths about girls and sex that just won’t die. That sex education in America has gaping holes in its curriculum hasn’t helped much, either; in a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report just 6 out of 10 girls said that their schools’ sex ed program included information on how to say no to sex. This lack of personal agency was reflected in a forthcoming study by sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University as well, which found that many young girls think of sex simply as something that is “done to them.”

 

Knowledge is power, and we can promote a healthier relationship with sex by encouraging a more open dialogue, teaching girls to feel comfortable with their sexuality and, most importantly, emphasizing that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone. But first, we’re going to need to stop perpetuating the following 17 myths about female sexuality.

 

1. Virginity exists.

 

Therese Shechter’s 2013 documentary How To Lose Your Virginity asks a seemingly simple question: What is a virgin? The answer is actually pretty complicated. The common idea of virginity is focused on a heteronormative, male-centric definition of intercourse — that is, penis-in-vagina penetration. But this definition ignores LGBTQ couples, oral and anal sex, instances where it “didn’t go all the way in,” rape and emotional intimacy.

 

The cultural obsession with virginity is more about keeping girls pure than anything else, and because the term begins to crumble upon close inspection, it doesn’t have to carry such weight. There’s no clear universal concept of virginity, and people should be able to define meaningful markers of intimacy for themselves.

 

2. Hymens are a sign of virginity.

 

Given that the entire notion of virginity is dubious at best, it’s not all that surprising that there is actually no medical way to tell if someone is a virgin or not. This includes a broken hymen. Hymens usually become worn down throughout adolescence, and can be torn by everything from jumping on a trampoline, to horseback riding, to simply playing sports. Some women aren’t born with one at all.

 

Despite the fact that more than half of women don’t bleed the first time they have penetrative sex, blood on the sheets has remained a signifier of losing one’s virginity throughout history. The persistence of this myth surrounding a basically irrelevant anatomical feature has even spawned a market for artificial hymens and reconstructive surgery to “restore” virginity. More disturbingly, girls around the world are often subject to degrading, invasive virginity “tests” to ensure their purity.

 

3. All women are born with vaginas.

 

Some items on this list focus on the anatomy of those assigned female at birth in an effort to illuminate issues that many girls don’t get to talk about enough, but the purpose is never to be exclusionary. Gender identity is different from biological sex, and trans women are women, period.

 

4. The first time is going to hurt — a lot.

 

Much of the pain young women are taught to expect during their first sexual experience actually comes from increased muscle tension due to nervousness. Blood usually comes from vaginal tissue tearing due to lack of lubrication and, ahem, inexperienced love making — not the hymen breaking. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, really; maybe if we stop telling girls to be terrified of the excruciating pain of their first time, things would be a little more comfortable for everyone.

 

5. If someone buys you something, you owe him or her sex.

 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a drink or a diamond necklace: You never “owe” someone sex. Ever.

 

6. Too much sex will stretch you out.

 

Nothing like the old “hot dog down a hallway” analogy to scare young women away from safe, consensual promiscuity. The truth is, women differ in size just like men do. The vagina is like a rubber band, and unless you’re regularly getting down with fire hose, you should be fine.

 

Similarly, having a baby will not “ruin” your vagina. Many women report feeling different down there after childbirth (the post-baby healing process depends on a variety of factors like age, the size of the baby and your commitment to Kegels), but we should really be teaching girls to accept their differences as normal and natural — not as new-found flaws.

 

7. Women don’t think about sex very much.

 

Many sexologists have arrived at the same conclusion: Women want sex just as much as men. This isn’t some new trend, either; science is just learning to ask the right questions about female desire.

 

So why does this myth of the undersexed female persist? It certainly doesn’t help that women often are taught that thinking about sex is boyish or juvenile. Entertainment media also frequently likes to portray women as the more responsible party in a relationship (think: nagging wife, childish husband).

 

The flip side of this thinking is the idea that “real” men should always have a voracious sexual appetite. But the saying “men think about sex every seven seconds” is just not true. Society’s focus on young men’s libido has created a sort of caricature of male sexuality, one that treats an occasional lack of desire or displays of emotion as not being masculine enough. And that’s not fair to them, either.

 

8. Women don’t like casual sex.

 

Not only do women want sex, but as journalist Daniel Bergner points out in What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, their desire is “not, for the most part, sparked or sustained by emotional intimacy and safety.” This means that, contrary to popular belief, women can most definitely have sex without getting emotionally attached. Studies of sexual desire have actually shown that plenty of ladies want casual sex more than the average guy, and many guys want it less than the average lady.

 

Much of this desire appears to be socially conditioned, anyway: Gendered differences in desire have been shown to diminish over time with more progressive generations, in countries with more equitable distributions of power and when the perceived stigma of being slut-shamed is controlled for in female subjects.

 

Moral of the story? It’s a personal preference, and blanket generalizations aren’t helping anyone.

 

9. Boys buy the condoms.

 

You don’t need to depend on anyone else for your protection. Girls can be prepared, too.

 

10. “Frigid” wives make cheating husbands.

 

The myth of the frigid wife plays off outdated notions of women who are too uninterested in sex to keep their men satisfied. But instead of lazily blaming infidelity on gender stereotypes, let’s encourage a sense of personal responsibility. Besides, men deserve more than to be treated like animals who can’t control themselves.

 

11. You have to wax.

 

Despite ads that try to convince women life can only be fully enjoyed stubble-free, you do not have an obligation to do anything to your body that you don’t want to do. After all, hair removal is still an industry, designed like every other to exploit people’s insecurities to make the most money possible.

 

It’s working, too: Hair removal is a $2.1 billion industry in the U.S., and over the course of a lifetime the average woman will spend an estimated $10,000 on shaving products. You should do what works for you, whether or not that means buying in.

 

12. You can’t have sex on your period.

 

If it grosses you out, no pressure. (Seriously though, is period blood really that much grosser than regular sexy-time fluids?) But such an act is both physically possible and safe. In fact, sex during your period can improve menstrual cramps, and some women even report having a shorter period overall when they get busy during that time of the month. Be warned, however: It is still possible to get pregnant or spread an STI while on your period, so don’t forgo the condom.

 

13. Sex is supposed to hurt sometimes.

 

Sex is not supposed to hurt, but for many women, it does. If your muscles aren’t ready, things can get painful. It can take 20 minutes of foreplay for a woman’s vaginal muscles to relax enough to be truly ready for penetrative sex.

 

For some women, however, foreplay isn’t the issue at all. Conditions like vaginismus and vulvodynia are very real, albeit unfortunately not very well known. The result is that many women suffering from these conditions don’t realize that there is help available. If sex hurts, it’s worth finding a specialist who can talk you through your options.

 

14. Once you start having sex, you’re not allowed to say “stop.”

 

You can change your mind at any time during sex, and your partner must respect that. It doesn’t matter if blue balls are real or not. Know that your voice must be heard.

 

15. Women don’t watch porn.

 

The hatred many women feel towards porn is understandable, given that so much of it promotes unrealistic or downright unhealthy attitudes about female sexuality. The problem is, as the Kinsey Institute’s Debby Herbenick points out, “Most mainstream porn is made by men with other men in mind.”

 

This doesn’t mean that many women don’t enjoy porn, nor that there’s not a market for more female-friendly fare. Researchers have shown that men and women respond comparably to sexually explicit material, and that the increase in women’s brainwave activity when looking at erotic images is just as strong as the increase in men’s.

 

16. Sexual harassment is normal.

 

A disturbing new study concluded that many young women consider sexual harassment and violence to be part of everyday life. Girls shouldn’t have to think of this treatment as expected. Sexual violations of any kind are unacceptable, and the dismissive “boys being boys” defense is both ridiculous and damaging to all genders. Sorry, personal bodily autonomy is not up for debate.

 

17. Everybody’s doing it.

 

The average American loses his or her virginity, for lack of a better term, at age 17. Plenty of people don’t start having sex until later (or earlier) in life, and that’s okay, too. Some people don’t have much of an interest in sex at all. Being sex positive isn’t about encouraging everyone to have tons of sex all the time; it’s about understanding that sex should be safe, shame-free and above all, based on informed, personal choices.

 

By Julianne Ross

April 2014

Source: http://mic.com/articles/88029/17-lies-we-need-to-stop-teaching-girls-about-sex

African Union to immediately receive close to USD 18.5 Million direct support to its Ebola operation ASEOWA

AU-FLAG2

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia–08 September 2014: The African Union and partners met Monday on the side lines of the emergency meeting of the African Union Executive Council to announce pledges by the African Union Partners Group (AUPG) to the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak (Operation ASEOWA).

 

The United States Government announced USD10 million and the European Union 5 million euros to be made available immediately to support the African Union Operation to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Republic of China last week announced USD 2 million to ASEOWA.

 

The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Erastus Mwencha, expressed gratitude to partners for the generous response to support the African Union operation ASEOWA and for all the concerted efforts to respond rapidly to the outbreak.

 

“The focus should be on containing the epidemic to make sure that it does not spread further, improve the capacity of health facilities, which have been overstretched and monitor contacts and manage the confirmed cases”, the AUC Deputy Chairperson said.

 

The African Union this week received the assessment report from the mission that it sent to the affected countries which will inform its path breaking response.

 

“The United States is absolutely committed to working with the international community to increase response efforts in West Africa and help bring this outbreak under control”, said Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety, adding “We commend the AU for sending an assessment team and welcome its findings and we urge the AU to ensure that its mission is working through its operations on the ground and in accord with WHO Ebola response roadmap”.

 

The ASEOWA operation aims at filling the existing gap in international efforts and will work with the African Humanitarian Action in mobilising medical and public health volunteers across the continent and will compliment ongoing efforts by various humanitarian actors who are already on the ground.

 

The African Union made a historic decision end of August by declaring Ebola a threat to peace and security in Africa invoking article 6 (f) relating to its mandate with regard to humanitarian action and disaster management at its 450th meeting. The meeting authorised the immediate deployment of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission to tackle the emergency situation caused by the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about USD600 million is needed to put the epidemic under control.

 

Click here to read: African Union’s Executive Council Urges Lifting of Travel Restrictions Related to Ebola Outbreak

Click here to read: ASEOWA Pledge

Click here to read: African Union Urges Member States to Find Collective Response to Ebola Outbreak and Show Solidarity with Affected Countries

Gambia’s President Jammeh asked to reject anti-gay law

Gambia President

Leading rights groups have called on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh not to approve tough new anti-gay legislation.

 

Homosexual acts are already illegal in The Gambia, but MPs passed a bill on 25 August imposing life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality”.

 

The bill promoted “state-sponsored homophobia”, the rights groups said.

 

Mr Jammeh is known for his strong opposition to gay rights. He has called gay people “vermin” and once threatened to behead them.

 

Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down a similar law last month on the grounds that it was passed by MPs without a quorum.

 

‘Deep fear’

Its ruling followed an outcry from rights groups and Western governments – US President Barack Obama described the legislation as “odious”.

 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the definition of “aggravated homosexuality” was vague in The Gambian bill.

 

Among those who could be given the life sentence were “repeat offenders” and people living with HIV who are suspected to be gay or lesbians, they said in a joint statement.

 

A person who had homosexual relations with a minor could also be convicted of “aggravated homosexuality”, Reuters news agency reports.

 

“President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

 

Graeme Reid of HRW said it would “only heap further stigma on people who are already marginalised and living in a climate of deep fear and hate in Gambia”.

 

Under current laws, homosexual acts are already punishable by up to 14 years in prison in The Gambia.

 

Mr Jammeh has 30 days from the date the bill was passed to sign it into law or return it to parliament for further review.

 

The Gambia is a popular tourist destination, famous for its beaches.

 

By BBC News Africa

10 September 2014

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29145397

LGBT Visibility in Africa Also Brings Backlash

homosexuality.jpg4

Eighteen-year-old Gift Makau enjoyed playing and refereeing football games in her neighbourhood in the North West Province of South Africa. She had come out to her parents as a lesbian and had never been heckled by her community, according to her cousin.

 

On Aug. 15 she was found by her mother in a back alley, where she had been raped, tortured and killed.

Shehnilla Mohamed, Africa director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGHLRC), said that Gift’s murder was part of a disturbing trend in which gender-nonconforming individuals are targeted for so-called corrective rape.

 

“Corrective rape is really the attempt of the society to try to punish the person for acting outside the norm,” Mohamed said.

 

In the past 10 years in South Africa, 31 lesbians have been reported killed as the result of corrective rape, she said.  A charity called Luleki Sizwe estimates that 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped a week in Cape Town alone.

 

Transgender, gay or effeminate men are also the subject of corrective rape, but they are less likely to be murdered and are less likely to report it.

If this is happening in South Africa, the only mainland African country to allow legal same-sex marriage, what is it like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elsewhere on the continent?

 

“The type of brutality that you see happening to lesbians and to homosexuals in parts of Africa is just beyond comprehension,” Mohamed told IPS. “It’s like your worst horror movie, and even worse than that.”

 

More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts, according to IGLHRC.

 

“Overall what we’ve seen is a fairly bleak picture that’s emerging,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

 

Africa is seeing “an intensification of the political use of homophobia,” he said.

 

Nigeria and Uganda made headlines in early 2014 when they signed anti-homosexuality bills that handed out long prison sentences for being homosexual or for refusing to turn in a known homosexual.

 

On Aug. 1, Uganda’s law was declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds by its supreme court, but Shehnilla Mohamed expects that it will be back on the table again once international attention shifts away.

 

Long-time African leaders who wish to extend their stay in office often try to whip up anti-homosexuality sentiment.

 

“Homophobia becomes both a ruse and a distraction from other real substantive issues, whether those are economic or political,” Graeme Reid said.

Chalwe Mwansa, a Zambian activist and IGHLRC fellow, told IPS that in his country, politicians equate cases of pedophilia and incest with homosexuality, fabricating sensational stories to inflame the public. This strategy diverts attention away from problems with unemployment, poverty, health and education.

 

Some leaders also claim that homosexuality is an un-African, Western imposition. Mohamed believes it is the exact opposite.

 

Homosexuality “existed in a lot of the African cultures and a lot of the African traditions,” she told IPS. “It was quite an accepted pattern.”

 

Same-sex relationships did not begin to develop a negative connotation until after colonisation brought Western religion, she said.

 

In an environment of antipathy, LGBT individuals have few places to turn to for help. The police station is often not a sanctuary for those who have been raped.

 

Mohamed recently spoke to a transgender man in South Africa who was accosted in the lobby of his block of apartments by a group of men who thought he was a woman. When they found out he was a man they raped and “beat him so badly that he was totally unrecognisable,” she said.

 

The man ended up contracting HIV/AIDS.

 

In South Africa, after being raped, a person is supposed to report it to the police and receive a free post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours to minimise the risk of transmission. However, this man was too afraid to go into the station, knowing that the police would most likely feel that he had deserved it.

 

The problem is even worse in countries like Nigeria that have criminalised homosexuality. According to Michael Ighodaro, a fellow at IGLHRC from Nigeria, after its anti-homosexuality bill was passed in January, 90 percent of gay men who were on medications stopped going to clinics to receive them, out of fear that they would be arrested.

 

Even at home, LGBT individuals in Africa face an uphill struggle. Anti-homosexuality laws do have a current of support throughout society. LGBT people often fear ostracisation by their families, so hide their sexual or gender identity.

 

The increased prominence of LGBT issues in national debates in Africa in the past decade has inspired a bit of a backlash.

 

Njeri Gateru, a legal officer at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, says that Kenya lies in a tricky balance. Society does not actively persecute LGBT individuals if they outwardly conform to sexual and gender norms, but “problems would arise if people marched in the streets or there was an article in the press.”

 

“We cannot continue to live in a balance where we are muzzled and we are comfortable being muzzled,” Gateru said at a HRW event in New York.

 

Religion plays a significant role in the lack of acceptance of gender non-conforming groups in Africa.

 

IGLHRC’s Mohamed said that even “people with master’s degrees, who are highly educated, who work in white collar jobs will say ‘God does not like this.’”

 

“I think pointing out that LGBTI people are human beings, are God’s creation just like everybody else is really something that we’ll keep on pushing,” she said.

 

According to Gateru, even when churches open their doors to LGBT groups, they sometimes do it for the wrong reasons.

 

A year or so ago, a group of Kenyan evangelical leaders announced that they were going to stop turning LGBT individuals away from churches because, in their words, ‘Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous.’

 

The churches are “welcoming you to change you or to pray for you so you can change, which is really not what we want,” said Gateru. “But I think it’s a very tiny step.”

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has repeatedly and consistently criticised discrimination against LGBT groups and condemned new anti-homosexuality laws.

 

Activist groups welcome the support of prominent religious leaders such as Tutu, and are planning a conference in February to bring together pastors, imams and rabbis to discuss LGBT issues and religion in Africa.

 

In general, LGBT activist organisations have their work cut out for them.

 

LGBT advocacy groups “most of the time are working undercover, are working underground, or if they are registered and are working as an NGO, are constantly being harassed by the authorities or by society,” Mohamed said.

 

IGLHRC was founded in 1990, and helps local LGBT advocacy groups around the world fight for their rights through grant making and work on the ground.

 

“What we really need is to mainstream homosexual rights, LGBTI rights into the basic human rights discourse,” said Mohamed.

 

During August’s U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, IGLHRC urged the U.S. to hold African leaders to account.

 

Depending on the country, the U.S. does have an ability to advance human rights through external pressure. Mohamed speculated that the striking down of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill just days before the summit was a public relations stunt by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, since he wanted a warm reception by the White House.

 

Nigeria, the other country to introduce a new law in 2014, is more difficult to influence than Uganda, according to Michael Ighodaro. Because of its oil wealth, the Nigerian government would not care if the United States were to pull funding.

 

The U.S.-African summit, since it was focused on business, offered an opportunity for LGBT advocacy groups to point out the economic costs of sidelining an entire sector of the population.

 

Mohamed said that LGBT individuals are often “too scared to apply for certain jobs because of how they would be treated. If they did apply they probably would never get the jobs because of the stigmas attached.”

 

Despite the difficult journey to come, supporters of LGBT rights in Africa can look back to see that some progress has been made.

 

HRW’s Reid said that the LGBT movement was practically invisible in Africa just 20 years ago.

 

“In a sense this very vocal reaction against LGBT visibility can also be seen as a measure of the strength and growth of a movement over the last two decades,” he said.

 

Things may get a little tougher before they get better, Njeri Gateru told IPS, but “history is on our side.”

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2014 (IPS) 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

By Joel Jaeger

10 Septermber 2014

Source: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash/

Three sex workers stage protest at Festival of Dangerous Ideas

AIDS Accountability International Sex workers

Three Sydney sex workers have staged a protest at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas over the representation of their profession in a panel discussion on the global sex industry called Women For Sale.

During a session that also discussed pornography, IVF and surrogacy, they handed out pamphlets to festival goers and posed with an A3 sign that read: “I am a sex worker. I am not for sale”.

This year’s festival has been beset with controversy, including the cancellation of a talk on “honour” killings and calls for a boycott over links to the government’s asylum seeker policy.

“This is a festival of dangerous ideology,” one of the workers, Jules Kim, told Guardian Australia. “Sex workers are not ‘women for sale’. The panel discusses sex workers, but the festival did not invite sex workers to be on the panel even though they are the experts in this field.”

Kim, who is the acting chief executive of the Australian sex workers’ organisation Scarlet Alliance, applied to festival organisers St James Ethics Centre to be included on the panel which featured four writers and journalists, but had her request denied.

However, at the beginning of the discussion journalist Elizabeth Pisani invited Kim to replace her on stage and she was allowed to take part.

Kim said of the festival organisers: “You would think they’d want an actual sex worker [on the panel], but somehow that’s not important because we’re seen as victims; voiceless and having no agency.”

The co-founder and co-curator of the festival, Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics Centre, said the intention of the sex workers to contribute to the discussion was “entirely appropriate”.

“However, I think that their cause could have been advanced in a stronger direction if they had used slightly different means. For example, taking the opportunity to express their opinion and then withdrawing back into the audience would have made a clear statement without seeking to dominate an agenda which was always intended to cover a broader range of issues.

“That said, a festival of dangerous ideas is always going to have interesting an exciting moments for which no one could have possibly planned.

“In my opinion what needed to be represented was a broad spectrum of opinion, which included the opinions of sex workers in Elizabeth Pisani,who was able to articulate the opinions that sex workers hold.

“One of the conscious designs of the festival is that … there is opportunity for people to contribute in the Q&A and in that senses there was always an opportunity for sex workers or parents of sex workers or any part of the community to contribute to this discussion.”

The two other protesters, Zahra Stardust and Cameron Cox, said they were allowed to enter the panel only as audience members on condition they leave a bag carrying their sign and pamphlets at the entrance. Stardust said the festival was part of a “historical, structural, systemic problem”.

The advocate said lack of representation inevitably meant myths and misinformation harmful to the lives of sex workers would be reproduced. Those ideas would be used to justify the criminalisation of their work, and increase stigma and institutional discrimination.

She said among such myths were that all sex work is exploitation, all sex work is a result of human trafficking, sex work is an inherent form of violence against women, all sex workers are young, female and coerced, all clients are male, and that the criminalisation of sex work would end the sex industry.

The protesters said the panel – which overall was highly critical of sex work, emphasising its links to sexual slavery and human trafficking, and calling for the criminalisation of both sex work and its clients – failed to acknowledge the legitimacy of sex work.

Source:http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/aug/31/three-sex-workers-stage-protest-at-festival-of-dangerous-ideas

 

African Union to immediately deploy joint military and civil mission against Ebola

Directorate of Information and Communication

 

Press Release NO. 184/ 2014

 

African Union to immediately deploy joint military and civil mission against Ebola

 

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia–21 August 2014: The Peace and Security Council of the African Union on Tuesday invoked Article 6(f) relating to its mandate with regard to humanitarian action and disaster management at its 450th meeting.  The Council authorised the immediate deployment of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission to tackle the emergency situation caused by the Ebola outbreak.

 

“Using the infrastructure of the Peace Support Operations, the African Union Commission is finalising the planning of the joint military and civilian mission code named Operation ASEOWA that could start deployment by the end of August 2014,” Said Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union Commission.

 

The African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak (Operation ASEOWA) is expected to deploy civilian and military volunteers from across the continent to ensure that Ebola is put under control. The mission will comprise medical doctors, nurses and other medical and paramedical personnel. The operation is expected to run for six months with monthly rotation of volunteers. The operation will cost more than USD25 million and the US government and partners have pledged to support the African Union with a substantial part of this amount.

 

The operation aims at filling the existing gap in international efforts and will work with WHO, OCHA, US CDC, EU CDC and others agencies already on the ground.

 

For more information, visit http://www.africa-union.org

 

For further information contact

 

Wynne Musabayana | Deputy Head of Division | Information and Communication Directorate | African Union Commission | Tel: (251) 11 551 77 00 | Fax: (251) 11 551 78 44 | E-mail: MusabayanaW@africa-union.org | Web: www.au.int|Addis Ababa | Ethiopia

 

Tawanda Chisango | Social Affairs | African Union Commission |Tel: +251115182029 | E-mail: Chisangot@africa-union.org | Web:www.au.int |Addis Ababa | Ethiopia

 

About the African Union

 

The African Union spearheads Africa’s development and integration in close collaboration with African Union Member States, the Regional Economic Communities and African citizens.  AU Vision:to accelerate progress towards an integrated, prosperous and inclusive Africa, at peacewith itself, playing a dynamic role in the continental and global arena, effectively driven by an accountable,efficient and responsive Commission. Learn more at: http://www.au.int/en/

500 days and counting: Progress for girls and women means progress for all

August 18 marks 500 days remaining before the Millennium Development Goals expire at the end of 2015. Some countries are on track to meet those goals and some are not, and central to the difference is their relative levels of investment in women and girls.

The MDGs emerged from an historic summit of world leaders to mark the new millennium nearly 15 years ago. Since then, countries that worked to boost girls’ education, women’s rights and comprehensive maternal, sexual and reproductive health care saw benefits not just for gender equality and longer lives for women and children but in other areas as well — against poverty and hunger, against diseases including HIV and AIDS, and toward a more sustainable environment. Investment in girls and women turned out to be the most cost-effective way to advance on all the goals.

Women Deliver was organized to point out this connection. At three global conferences of activists and decision-makers from around the world — in London in 2007, in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and in Kuala Lumpur in 2013 — it provided statistics and case studies that proved the truth of its slogan, “Invest in women — it pays!” Every year brought more proof and better examples of investments in girls and women in which everybody won. So today, as the international community begins final MDG assessments and considers future plans, we are proud to announce that the next triennial Women Deliver conference will be held on May 17-19, 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Like the previous three gatherings, this one will bring together advocates, policymakers, journalists, young people, researchers and leaders of the private sector and civil society to showcase what it means and how it works when women and girls become the focus of development efforts. It will document the great results around the world where investment in women rose.

The Women Deliver 2016 Conference will also be the first major global conference after the post-2015 development framework, so far called the Sustainable Development Goals, is decided. It will be a first chance for strategizing on ways to turn the MDG spurs for growth into the plowshares of a livable planet, to make startup programs sustainable over the long term, to bring pilot programs to national scale — in short, to firm up long-term support, ensure that girls and women are kept at the center of the new development plans from the beginning, and include them in operations and evaluations at every stage into the future.

Copenhagen was chosen because Denmark is a leader and champion for progress in sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Danish International Development Agency has already launched a new Strategic Framework for Gender Equality, Rights and Diversity to assist women and girls in seizing opportunities and resources to take full control over their own lives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark is fully in support of Women Deliver’s call for additional global commitment on behalf of girls and women.

The post-2015 development framework is being developed as we write, and Women Deliver is working  to ensure that decision makers prioritize maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially in countries where inequality prevails and where it would help development most.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture alone, for example, could lift up to 150 million people out of hunger. Investing $8.1 billion a year in voluntary family planning would reduce pregnancy-related deaths by 79,000 and newborn deaths by 1.1 million every year. Increasing girls’ school attendance by only 10 percent raises a country’s GDP by 3 percent. And eliminating barriers to employment for girls and women could raise labor productivity in some countries by 25 percent.

These are the facts of life in the 21st century. Imagine a world where no woman dies giving life, where no baby is born with HIV, where every girl can attend school and get a quality education, and where everybody has a chance to fulfill their potential. The post-2015 process can move us closer to that day — if it prioritizes the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women.

In these last 500 days, Women Deliver will build on the momentum generated by our previous gatherings to see that it happens. We will insist that adolescents and young people, who predominate in most developing areas, should get special focus. We will make sure that women are present at the tables where decisions are made. And we will continue playing a critical role in fueling the global movement for maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We will see you all in Copenhagen!

Aug. 18, 2014, marks the 500-day milestone until the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Join Devex, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, to raise awareness of the progress made through the MDGs and to rally to continue the momentum. Check out our Storify page and tweet us using #MDGmomentum.

By Jill Sheffield and Katja Iversen

18 August 2014

Source: https://www.devex.com/news/500-days-and-counting-progress-for-girls-and-women-means-progress-for-all-84064

Uganda holds first pride rally after ‘abominable’ anti-gay law overturned

Ugandan men hold a rainbow flag reading

Uganda has hosted its first gay pride rally since a draconian anti-homosexuality law was overturned by the courts.

Sandra Ntebi, organiser of the rally held on Saturday in Entebbe, 35km from the capital Kampala, said police had granted permission for the invitation-only "Uganda Pride" event.

"This event is to bring us together. Everyone was in hiding before because of the anti-homosexuality law," she said. "It is a happy day for all of us, getting together."

The overturned law, condemned as "abominable" by rights groups but popular among many Ugandans, called for proven homosexuals to be jailed for life.

The constitutional court rejected the law on a technicality on 1 August, six months after it took effect. The government swiftly filed an appeal, while MPs have signed a petition for a new vote on the bill.

Homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda, punishable by a jail sentence. However, it is no longer illegal to promote homosexuality and Ugandans are no longer obliged to denounce gays to the authorities.

Amid music, dancing and laughter, activists gathered in a park on the shores of Lake Victoria, close to the country's presidential palace. "Some Ugandans are gay. Get over it," read one sticker a man had pasted onto his face.

Ugandan deputy attorney-general Fred Ruhinda said that government lawyers had lodged an appeal against the ruling at the supreme court, the country's highest court.

"We are unsatisfied with the court ruling," he said. "The law was not intended to victimise gay people, it was for the common good."

In their surprise ruling last week, judges said it had been passed without the necessary quorum of MPs in parliament.

Rights groups said the law triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults on members of the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Homophobia is rampant in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is increasingly popular.

Gay men and women face frequent harassment and threats of violence, but activists celebrated openly on Saturday.

"Since I discovered I was gay I feared coming out, but now I have the courage after the law was thrown out," said Alex Musoke, one of more than 100 people at the event.

One pair of activists waved a rainbow flag with a slogan appealing for people to "join hands" to end the "genocide" of homosexuals. There were few police in attendance and no protestors.

Critics said President Yoweri Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election set for 2016, which would be his 30th year in power.

However, it lost him friends abroad, with several international donors freezing or redirecting millions of dollars of government aid, saying the country had violated human rights and democratic principles.

US secretary of state John Kerry likened the law to antisemitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Analysts suggest that Museveni secretly encouraged last week's court ruling as it provided a way to avoid the appearance of caving in to foreign pressure.

Gay rights activists say the battle is not over. MPs have signed a petition calling for a new vote on the bill and to bypass parliamentary rules that require it be formally reintroduced from scratch – a process that could take years.

By Chris Johnston

9 August 2014

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/09/uganda-first-gay-pride-rally-law-overturned

The Evidence Is In: Decriminalizing Sex Work Is Critical to Public Health

During the 2014 International AIDS conference, The Lancet medical journal released a series of articles focused exclusively on HIV and sex work. One study by Kate Shannon et al., demonstrates that decriminalization of sex work could reduce HIV infections by 33 to 46 percent over the next decade. Shannon’s team showed that “multi-pronged structural and community-led interventions” are essential to promoting the human rights of sex workers, as well as improving their access to HIV prevention and treatment. Dr. Chris Beyrer, the researcher who coordinated this Lancet series, told AIDS conference participants that“[e]fforts to improve HIV prevention and treatment by and for people who sell sex can no longer be seen as peripheral to the achievement of universal access to HIV services and to eventual control of the pandemic,” drawing an irrefutable line between the social, legal, and economic injustices sex workers face and their subsequent vulnerability to HIV.

 

The Lancet series authors join many other prominent public health voices in identifying the decriminalization of sex work as vital to preventing the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). For two decades, sex workers rights’ activists throughout the world have pushed human rights, public health, and HIV and AIDS response leaders to recognize that they, along with people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men, are “key populations” without whom an effective HIV and AIDS response is impossible. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that “all countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.” In South Africa (with the largest population of people living with HIV in the world), the National AIDS Council is urging its government to decriminalize sex work—a demand that advocates and health policy professionals are making in dozens of other countries as well. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law all endorse this position. The latter points out “the impossibility of governments stigmatizing people on one hand, while simultaneously actually helping to reduce their risk of HIV transmission or exposure on the other.”

 

Sex work has been decriminalized in New Zealand and one province (New South Wales) in Australia leaving sex work businesses subject to standard occupational health and safety regulations. Law enforcement treats the sale of sex as it does any other business, without any intrusion or interruption unless existing laws are being violated.

 

Decriminalization has resulted in higher rates of condom use and enables sex workers to organize community-based health practices that demonstrably improve health and reduce HIV risk. It also makes it possible for sex workers to report and for the police to address illegal acts as they occur, such as assault, theft of services, employment of minors, or client coercion. In this decriminalized setting, sex workers can be strong allies in the fight against trafficking, intimate partner violence, and child abuse since they can report incidents to the police and social service agencies without putting themselves at risk of arrest.

 

So, why is the HIV-AIDS field only just beginning to recognize the connection between the decriminalization of sex work and HIV? And why is the trend toward criminalizing populations involved in the sex trades increasing in the United States—moving in the opposite direction from other countries? The following are three contributing factors.

 

Conflating Sex Work With Trafficking

 

Public debate around sex work in the United States increasingly focuses on people who have been trafficked or otherwise coerced into the sex trade. Anti-trafficking advocates conflate sex work (people choosing to sell sexual services from among employment options available to them) with trafficking (people being forced into the sex industry against their will). Laws that criminalize all people selling sex (voluntarily or involuntarily) violate the rights of the former and undermine efforts to identify and assist the latter. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law states unequivocally that, “Sex work and sex trafficking are not the same. The difference is that the former is consensual, whereas the latter is coercive.”

 

A commentary by Steen et al. in the recent Lancet series notes that “repressive and counterproductive police action,” including the arrest and incarceration of trafficking victims for the purposes of “rescue,” has overtaken far more effective responses in several countries. The understandable, but destructively over-simplified, mandate to “rescue and restore” sex workers is also being imposed in public health settings where providers are now charged with identifying and intervening with potential victims of trafficking in the sex trade. Certainly, health-care providers have a duty to watch for and help patients in abusive situations of all kinds. They also have a duty to understand the complexities of human experience, respond to patient-identified needs, and maintain that patients are experts of their own lives, whatever that may look like.

 

Lack of Access to Health Care for Sex Workers

 

Providing access to health-care services targeted to consumers’ needs is a vital part of any country’s HIV response. Without it, those most in need of prevention, care, and treatment are least likely to get it.

 

In a 2010 survey, 53 percent of medical students said they were not adequately trained to address their patients’ sexual issues comfortably. Far fewer professional medical curricula explicitly prepare students to understand that they will encounter sex workers as patients who, like all other patients, are individuals with a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, and needs that can best be treated with patient-centered care.

 

When sex workers receive demeaning and unprofessional treatment in health-care settings, they see health-care providers as an extension of the larger system that criminalizes them. A survey by the New York City-based Persist Health Project found that few sex workers disclosed their occupation to their health-care provider; only one study participant reported a positive experience after doing so. As one respondent explained, “I think for security reasons, I don’t usually disclose. Mainly because I don’t trust doctors … I sort of treat them like law enforcement.” Another noted that most health-care providers “have no clue who you are, no clue about your background, you can’t read them or know that they’re not going to try to lecture you or give you a stink-eye.”

 

St. James Infirmary, a peer-based occupational safety and health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco, corroborates these findings. Of their incoming patients, 70 percent had never previously disclosed their occupation to a medical provider for feared of bad treatment. Providing sex-worker friendly health care requires training health-care workers appropriately and supporting services designed specifically with and for the communities they serve.

 

Violence Risk Exacerbated by Criminalization

 

People usually envision a sex worker as someone soliciting on the street, but only about 20 percent of U.S. sex workers are street-based. The vast majority see clients in other venues including massage parlors, brothels, apartments they share with other sex workers, or a client’s hotel room. Many connect with clients online.

 

HIV risk is high among street-based sex workers who experience high levels of violence at the hands of clients and abusive law enforcement personnel. One important way they reduce this risk is assessing a potential client before getting into his car—looking for signals that he might be violent and relaying his license number to a colleague in case the worker disappears. This assessment time is also used to negotiate price and condom use. Law enforcement crack-downs compel sex workers to complete their negotiations quickly (in order to avoid arrest), depriving them of the time needed for assessment and negotiation.

 

Street-based sex workers have little or no protection if a client becomes violent or refuses to use a condom. Of the street-based workers surveyed in The Lancet study by Shannon et al., 25 percent reported being pressured by clients to have sex without a condom. Those working in remote areas (such as industrial parks) to escape local policing were three times more likely to report being pressured into having sex without a condom than the study population overall. The recent Lancet series data also shows that, in some countries, up to one-third of sex workers do not carry an adequate supply of condoms due to “condoms as evidence” policies that allow police to seize a sex worker’s condom supply and use it as evidence of their intent to engaged in sex work—a widely-used policy in several U.S. cities. 

 

Getting From Here to There 

 

Punitive laws against sex work are in place in 116 countries, including the United States, creating, according to the Open Society Foundations, “a state-sanctioned culture of stigma, discrimination, exploitation, and police and client violence against sex workers.”

 

Decriminalizing sex work in the United States is a long and challenging process, but there is a path to follow. The 1988 ban on federal funding for syringe exchange remained in place for 20 years and, after briefly lifting it in 2009, the Obama administration agreed to its reinstatement in 2011 at Congress’ insistence. Advocacy pressure to overturn it continues.

 

Thanks to the efforts of dedicated researchers and activists during the two decades between 1988-2009, public health professionals, medical institutions and virtually everyone working in the HIV-AIDS field learned why harm reduction practices are essential. Services to people who use drugs began to improve, although they are still inadequate, primarily because they are grossly under-funded. Progress has been made.

 

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a consensus statement that addressed the need for syringe exchange but also observed that “[p]rograms targeting sex workers have been highly efficacious in other countries, but [in the U.S., programs] will encounter cultural and political barriers.” The public silence maintained on this issue for the last 17 years is emblematic of those barriers.

 

But sex workers’ rights organizations in most U.S. cities, though heavily marginalized, have not been silent. They are struggling to end “condoms as evidence” practices, train health-care providers, find or establish sex worker-friendly health-care services, and demand their rightful place as invaluable allies in ending human trafficking and preventing the spread of HIV. Like the harm reductionists who set up the first syringe exchange sites in the United States, they need the support of mainstream sexual and reproductive health advocates willing to learn from them and join them. Like the early harm reductionists, they need the rest of us to bring our money, skills, and political support this human rights struggle.

 

We can’t stop HIV in the United States without sustainable and long-term solutions to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of sex workers in the United States, as well as end the violations against sex workers within the correctional system. A meta-analysis of more than 800 other studies and reports, published in the recent Lancet series, listed abuse experienced by sex workers as including “homicide; physical and sexual violence, from law enforcement, clients, and intimate partners; unlawful arrest and detention; discrimination in accessing health services; and forced HIV testing.” It added “protection of sex workers is essential to respect, protect, and meet their human rights, and to improve their health and well-being.”

 

Expert voices in support of community-led, sex worker-centered health care in the fight against HIV are becoming more and more numerous. When will the mainstream HIV and AIDS organizations and women’s health advocacy communities join loudly in this demand?

 

by Anna Forbes and Sarah Elspeth Patterson

13 August 2014

Source: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/08/13/evidence-decriminalizing-sex-work-critical-public-health/

Young people demand sexual and reproductive health rights

Young-people_feature-634x252

The first time Alfred went to a HIV voluntary testing centre, the healthcare provider did not treat him well. As a gay man, his story is not so rare.

“He [healthcare worker] asked me are you a man or a woman? I answered I am a man. Then he asked me about my parents,” said Alfred, who lives on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.

“He just looked at me and treated me as if I was a disgrace to my parents. I decided not to go to the health centre after that. Because I do not want to go to a place where I am judged based on my sexual orientation. I am gay and I have sex. So what? ”

Challenges for youth to accessing sexual and reproductive health

Key populations in the HIV epidemic, such as men who have sex with men, sex workers and transgender people, have the same sexual and reproductive health rights as anyone else— the right to have sexual relations free from coercion, to have children and to protect themselves from infection.

Last week’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia was an opportunity for young people, especially youth from key populations, including young people living with HIV, to discuss the barriers and challenges they face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

During a session moderated by the Athena Network and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, one young panelist Violet Lindiwe, 23, from Malawi, said: “In my community, when you attend HIV testing and family planning, healthcare professionals are likely to judge you because they think you misbehaved and that’s why you are there.”

Myo Minn Htet, a young man from Indonesia, added: “Culture and religious beliefs make it very difficult to talk about sex and to go to sexual and reproductive health services. Moreover discrimination against young key populations make their access to these services more difficult.”

The legal age to attend health centres is also one of the barriers identified by young people. Annie Zamina from Malawi said: “In my country though the legal age to have sex is 16, you cannot go a clinic and ask for contraceptive pills without your parents’ approval. It seems that while the law says you’re old enough to have sex, you are still too young to use contraception or to protect yourself from HIV.”

young-people_inpost

Young people vulnerable to HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies

According to the UN, globally young people account for 40% of all new HIV infections. Each day, more than 2,400 young people become infected with HIV, and some 5 million young people aged 15–24 live with HIV.

Apart from HIV infection, poor access to sexual and reproductive health and sex education opens the door to many other consequences, such as unintended pregnancies and dropping out of school.

Violet said: “When you listen to me, you may think I have a PhD but in fact, I stopped school when I became pregnant. I have to care for me and my son now. And this is what happens to young women in my community when they get pregnant when still students.”

Integrated services

According to the World Health Organization, linking sexual and reproductive health with HIV services is an approach that has the potential to increase universal access to prevention, treatment, and care services.

This is what Link Up— a programme to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people—is trying to achieve. The project works with young people living with and affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Uganda and is implemented by a consortium of organisations, including the International HIV/Aids Alliance, Global Youth Coalition against Aids, and the Athena Network.

Sexual and reproductive health rights

Reproductive rights only become tangible when reproductive health services that offer a high quality of care are made widely available. Availability includes both affordability and easy access, which also implies a range of services under one roof.

Like Alfred, Rebeccah, a young woman living with HIV from Zimbabwe, was also treated badly the first time she went to a clinic to receive counselling about contraception. She said: “The nurse said she was surprised I was still having sex considering my ‘condition’. And she told me I should abstain from sex since I am HIV positive. I cried a lot in her office and decided not to go to that clinic anymore.”

But Rebeccah, like many other young people, is now getting to grips with her rights. “As a young woman living with HIV, I am sexually active and I have the right to go a clinic for family planning services,” she said. “My status should not be an argument to be denied this service. And I really hope people should not use our status, our sexual orientation or sex work as argument to deny access to healthcare because we need, no, we demand access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.”

Nina Benedicte Kouassi is a member of the Key Correspondents network, which focuses on marginalised groups affected by HIV to report the health and human rights stories that matter to them. The network is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Feature image credit: Sheikh Rajibul Islam/International HIV/AIDS Alliance

In-post image credit: Julie Mellin/GYCA

By Nina B. Kouassi

30 July 2014

Source: http://stayingalivefoundation.org/blog/2014/07/young-people-demand-their-sexual-and-reproductive-health-rights/