Opening Remarks by Prof. Sheila Tlou Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team - East and Southern Africa at the Integration of Human Rights and Gender Equality into National HIV planning processes 20-23 September 2011
I am delighted to welcome you all to this important meeting on integrating human rights and gender equality into national HIV strategic planning. I am very pleased to see so many of you here from so many countries of East and Southern Africa. This is not just another meeting on HIV, human rights and gender equality. This meeting is when we get practical and translate these two things into concrete programmes and activities in national AIDS Responses – specific programmes as well as activities and perspectives that improve prevention, treatment, care and support. This meeting is critical for three reasons:
First, at the High Level Meeting at the UN General Assembly in June this year, governments across the world, including your governments, reiterated their commitment to human rights and gender equality in the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. In particular, governments committed themselves to national HIV strategies that promote and protect human rights and reduce stigma and discrimination through specific programmes. These programmes include sensitising police and judges, training health care workers in non-discrimination, supporting legal literacy and legal services, and working against harmful gender norms and violence against women. This meeting will help translate this commitment into action.
Second, this meeting brings together stakeholders at various levels from policy makers and technical experts to advocates and programme implementers. This is critical for taking human rights and gender equality issues and programmes to the next level in national HIV responses. We need technical expertise to know what works and doesn’t work in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. But we also need political will, and political champion, and you are here today. We need you to ensure that human rights and gender equality become real priorities in national strategic planning processes, that human rights and gender equality programmes receive adequate funding, and that we measure what we achieve in human rights and gender terms. At this meeting, we have all the right people in the room to move forward and shift the national responses to address the needs of those most affected and to scale up programmes to support human rights and gender equality in the context of HIV.
Finally, this meeting is important because 30 years into the HIV epidemic, we must challenge ourselves to do things differently. Nearly 30 million people have lost their lives to AIDS. Though we are making gains against HIV, we are not doing enough, or enough of the right things, to break the back of the epidemic. Still in Africa and all over the world, the social environment of stigma and the legal environment of punitive laws and practices undermine all our good programmes on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. They undermine our hard work and investment. We must stop this and create social and legal environments that will get people to come forward for prevention, testing and treatment.
People living with HIV, communities around the world, the United Nations System and governments have long acknowledged that human rights and gender equality are critical to effective responses to HIV. However, all too often this acknowledgement has not translated into concrete actions and programmes in national AIDS responses. National Strategic Plans often mention human rights and gender equality as cross-cutting priorities or as guiding principles. But neither the plans nor their implementation included sufficient programmes on human rights or gender equality at sufficient scale or quality, adequate budgets for these programmes, or indicators to measure progress in these areas.
Now is the time to move from the acknowledgement of human rights and gender equality to making them an integral part of national HIV responses in very practical ways. I am confident that this meeting will give us new ideas about how to ensure that the realisation of human rights and gender equality become the core of finally overcoming this epidemic and reaching zero incidance, zero AIDS related deaths and zero discrimination. I wish you all success in your deliberations. I thank all our UN partners and civil society partners for the hard work they have done to put this together, and again I thank you all for coming.