Category Archives: Capacity building

We Can’t Have a Post-2015 Agenda Without SRHR

In 2000, the creators of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) completely overlooked sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), a mistake that, if repeated, would cripple the dreams of millions of young girls and women for years and generations to come.

 

Access to SRHR enables individuals to choose whether, when, and with whom to engage in sexual activity; to choose whether and when to have children; and to access the information and means to do so. To some, these rights may be considered an everyday reality. However, that is not the case for millions of young people in the world – particularly girls and women.

 

On Tuesday night, I had the fantastic opportunity to listen to some of the foremost global leaders speak on behalf of ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 agenda. The benefits of ensuring SRHR are society wide and inevitably translate into improved education, economic growth, health, gender equality, and even environment.

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Education

 

“At my high school, you would be expelled if found with a condom.” – Samuel Kissi, former President, Curious Minds Ghana

 

When girls are healthy and their rights are fulfilled, they have the opportunity to attend school, learn life skills, and grow into empowered young women. Wherever girls’ SRHR are ignored, major educational barriers follow. Child marriage and early pregnancy are major contributors to school dropout rates. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, girls are married before age 18 at an alarming 50 percent and 40 percent respectively. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of adolescent pregnancies occur in marriage, it is safe to assume that not all those sexual acts were consensual and not all those pregnancies were planned.

 

Economic Benefits

 

“Initially I used to oppose family planning, but now I fully support. I support it because my wife has more time to work and earn money.” – The Honorable Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minster of Foreign Affairs for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, sharing the story of an Ethiopian man’s changed opinion regarding the importance of SRHR

 

Protecting SRHR not only saves lives and empowers people, but it also leads to significant economic gains for individuals and for the community as a whole. As previously stated, ensuring SRHR helps to decrease school dropout rates and, as a result, leads to a more productive and healthy workforce as each additional year of schooling for girls increases their employment opportunities and future earnings by nearly 10 percent.

 

Broader Health Agenda

 

“We cannot eliminate new HIV infections without providing SRHR services to women so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their children in the future. Yes, we will end the AIDS epidemic, but first we need to respect the dignity and the equality of women and young girls.” – Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS

 

Access to SRHR guarantees quality family planning services, counseling and health information. These services are critical, particularly because women are often victims of gender-based violence and sexual assault and thereby face greater risks for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. Failing to secure and uphold SRHR dooms women and girls with an increased risk of unsafe, non-consensual sex and maternal mortality.

 

Gender Equality

 

“How can you control your life if you cannot control your fertility?” – Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

 

When a woman can easily plan her family, she is more equipped to participate in the economy alongside her male colleagues. When the sexual rights of a woman or girl are fulfilled, she will experience decreased rates of sexual violence and enjoy a healthy relationship with a respectful partner. When a woman or girl does not fall victim to child marriage and early pregnancy, she can stay in school and achieve anything she puts her mind to.

 

Environment

 

“The woman continues to bring life, to bring up the next generation, to stand before you and say, ‘I am ready to embrace my rights and to deliver a better planet to humanity.’” – Joy Phumaphi, former Minister of Health, Botswana; Chair, Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health

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A 2012 study found that community water and sanitation projects designed and run by women are more sustainable and effective than those that are not. Similarly, women produce 60 to 80 percent of food in developing countries and, with the economic and educational gains that coincide with secured SRHR, a woman is better equipped to effectively manage her land.

 

The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will not happen without SRHR being addressed. So far, the world has failed to recognize that SRHR are equally as fundamental to global development as finance and trade. We can no longer afford to view SRHR as a taboo or promiscuous topic. When 90% of first births in low-income countries are to girls under 18; when the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 is pregnancy and childbirth; when two-thirds of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among adolescent girls; and when 200 million women want to use family planning methods but lack access, the young girls and women of the world do not have a promiscuity problem – they have a human rights problem.

 

By Elisabeth Epstein

25 September 2014

Source: http://girlsglobe.org/2014/09/25/we-cant-have-a-post-2015-agenda-without-srhr/

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

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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

Ebola death toll reaches 2,288, says World Health Organization

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed 2,288 people, with half of them dying in the last three weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

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It said that 47% of the deaths and 49% of the total 4,269 cases had come in the 21 days leading up to 6 September.

The health agency warned that thousands more cases could occur in Liberia, which has had the most fatalities.

The outbreak, which was first reported in Guinea in March this year, has also spread to Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

In Nigeria, eight people have died out of 21 cases, while one case of Ebola has been confirmed in Senegal, the WHO said in its latest update.

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'Latter-day plague'

On Monday, the agency called on organisations combating the outbreak in Liberia to scale up efforts to control the outbreak "three-to-four fold".

Ebola spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.

However, the WHO says conventional means of controlling the outbreak, which include avoiding close physical contact with those infected and wearing personal protective equipment, were not working well in Liberia.

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The reason for this remains unclear; however, experts say it could be linked to burial practices, which can include touching the body and eating a meal near it.

There are also not enough beds to treat Ebola patients, particularly in the capital Monrovia, with many people told to go back home, where they may spread the virus.

Sophie-Jane Madden, of aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, told the BBC that health workers at the largest treatment centre in Monrovia were completely overwhelmed: "Our teams are every day turning away people who are desperately seeking healthcare."

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Meanwhile, the US says it will help the African Union mobilise 100 African health workers to the region and contribute an additional $10m (£6.2m) in funds to deal with the outbreak.

The announcement comes as a fourth US aid worker infected with the deadly virus was transported to a hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

The identity of the aid worker has not yet been revealed.

Two other aid workers who were treated at the same hospital have since recovered from an Ebola infection.

Separately on Tuesday, the UN's envoy in Liberia said at least 80 Liberian health workers had died from Ebola, according to the Associated Press.

Karin Landgren described the outbreak as a "latter-day plague" that was growing exponentially. She added that health workers were operating without proper protective equipment, training or pay, in comments to the UN Security Council.

By BBC News Africa

9 September 2014

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29131065

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

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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.”

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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/

Africa: Can the New African Court Truly Deliver Justice for Serious Crimes?

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As atrocities continue to be committed across Africa, the continent's leaders seem more concerned with their own fate before international courts than a rigorous pursuit of justice for these crimes.

It is hard to fathom that in 2014, commitments to end impunity are under threat by African leaders even though the continent has been ravaged by serious crimes for decades and the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) rejects impunity.

In adopting the draft protocol of the proposed African Court of Justice and Human Rights (African Court) at the recent AU Summit in Equatorial Guinea, African leaders have signed off on the establishment of a new court that will provide immunity from prosecution to serving heads of state and senior government officials for a range of serious crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide ('international crimes').

The adopted amendment to Article 46A of the protocol now reads, 'No charges shall be commenced or continued before the Court against any serving African Union Head of State or Government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such a capacity, or other senior states officials based on their function, during their tenure of office.'

The decision to entrench immunity for heads of state and senior officials was agreed to despite African and international civil society cautioning against it. African leaders had previously taken the immunity debate to the international level during the 12th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2013.

African states parties to the ICC tabled a proposal on behalf of the AU for the Rome Statute to be amended to exclude sitting heads of state from prosecution for international crimes.

The ASP rejected this proposal, although indications are that the same proposal is likely to be tabled again at the December 2014 ASP. This determination to exempt serving heads of state from prosecution for the gravest crimes known to mankind is highly concerning for supporters of international justice.

Discussions in Africa relating to immunity for heads of state who are wanted for international crimes began in 2006, when France and Spain issued arrest warrants against high-ranking Rwandan government officials, which provoked strong protests from Rwanda and the AU.

The cases at the ICC of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have reignited the debate. These concerns no doubt informed the AU's decision to mandate its Commission in 2009 to consider the possibility of expanding the jurisdiction of the yet-to-be-established African Court to also try international crimes.

It is against this backdrop that the new African Court protocol must be viewed.

Another problem with the immunity provision in the protocol is that it extends beyond heads of state to include 'senior government officials.' Who exactly qualifies as a senior government official would be decided based on their functions during their tenure, on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with international law.

This definition is imprecise and potentially offers immunity from prosecution to a wide range of officials.

The potential threat that this spells for the protection of human rights in Africa cannot be overstated. Granting immunity offers free rein to senior officials and heads of state to perpetrate such crimes, and is likely to motivate them to cling to their official positions to avoid prosecution.

Even more worrisome is that this has taken place at a time when atrocities continue in countries such as South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The immunity provision flouts international law and is contrary to the national laws of African states like Kenya and South Africa. It goes against the very essence of promoting human rights, peace and stability, and presents a major setback to advancing democracy and the rule of law.

Africa has extensive accountability mechanisms at the national and regional levels, and many countries have acceded to international legal treaties that promote accountability. An African Court that can try serious crimes is another positive step for the continent. However, the protocol that was adopted at the AU summit in Malabo provides a protective veil that denies justice for victims, and is detrimental to accountability.

Can the African Court truly protect Africans against grave crimes and human rights abuses while it provides such immunity? Considering the progress made in bringing those responsible for gross crimes to justice, African states are urged to reconsider the proposed amendments before ratifying the protocol.

For the African Court to begin its work, the protocol must be ratified by 15 AU states, which means there is still an opportunity for governments to reconsider. To echo the words of the president of Botswana, heads of state need to ask themselves whether they want to be on the wrong side of history by opposing the arrest of prominent persons accused of serious crimes.

African leaders have the moral authority and responsibility to ensure that neither they nor any other person who perpetuates such crimes goes unpunished. In this way, they will demonstrate their commitment towards ensuring accountability through African solutions, including a reformed regional tribunal that serves justice for all Africans.

By Jemima Njeri Kariri

8 July 2014

Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201407101017.html?viewall=1

Post-2015 Agenda: Organized Chaos or Hot Mess?

Sexual and Reproductive Health in Trouble as Goals Move Forward 

UN flag on Crumpled paper texture

The latest version of the zero draft report from the Open Working Group developing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) hit the internet late Monday evening. This is the final draft that member states will have a chance to respond to before the final report is produced and shared with the Secretary General prior to the United Nations General Assembly in September. It is fairly similar to the last draft in that it still has the same 17 goals, with small semantic differences. Overall, there are fewer targets, but both the targets and the process are becoming increasingly convoluted.

 

This draft misses the integration, aspiration, transformation and sustainability that were meant to drive the post-2015 agenda.  We see important targets missing in this lengthy draft, but we have yet to really see the difficult trade-offs that a final set of implementable goals would require.

 

How have sexual and reproductive health and rights fared?

 

Sexual and reproductive health has disappeared from the Health Goal. While a target on sexual and reproductive health was previously included under both the Health and Gender goals, it now only appears under the Gender goal as “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the ICPD and the Beijing Platform for Action.” This is problematic for two reasons:

 

1.    Without SRH under the health goal, family planning is in jeopardy of not being recognized in this new development framework. SRHR is a major component of overall health not only for women and girls, but also for men and boys. It is therefore critical to be included within a discussion of health.

 

2.    The qualifier of ICPD and Beijing is unnecessary and weakens the human rights frame of the target. Nowhere else in the Open Working Group’s draft document is such a caveat introduced. As such, it undermines the principle of arriving at a forward-looking set of SDGs. There is no need to qualify universal access to sexual and reproductive health or reproductive rights. With a reference to ICPD and Beijing already in the introduction, we hope to see this qualifier removed.

 

What are other notable points?

 

  • It is good to see that in proposed Goal 6  (Ensure availability and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all), the following target remained: “By 2030, achieve adequate sanitation and hygiene for all, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls.” This is critical to mainstreamed access to reproductive health.
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  • Comprehensive sexuality education also remains absent from the latest document and should be inserted, ideally under the education goal.
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  • Equity has been and will continue to be a prevailing narrative in the post-2015 agenda.

 

What’s next?

 

In New York for the Open Working Group session last week, you could see will, desire, and investment on the faces of delegates, civil society, co-chairs. But you could also see the fatigue. This has been a long and intensive exercise that has lasted nearly two years already. Now is the time point to put words down on paper and respond to drafts in order to rescue the jumbled mess that the draft goals have become.

 

The final round of informal discussions by the Open Working Group takes place July 14 to 18. The co-chairs (from Kenya and Hungary) will incorporate this final feedback from member states into a final report submitted to the Secretary General in August. A report will simultaneously be submitted by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing. The Secretary General will then take these inputs, among others, and produce his own report, and full negotiations are expected to start in January 2015. The co-chairs of the post-2015 summit (September 21 to 23) are Denmark and Papua New Guinea.

 

By A. Tianna Scozzaro, Population and Climate Associate – 

3 July 2014

Source: http://www.populationaction.org/blog/2014/07/03/post-2015-agenda-organized-chaos-or-hot-mess/#sthash.VKfcdhBU.dpuf