It’s Your Body: Know Your Rights!

Reproductive Rights Activists Hold Stand Up For Women's Health Rally In DC

Because of discrimination, violence against women, less access to education, and an intersection of additional human right abuses, women and girls are disproportionately affected when sexual and reproductive rights are denied (Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images).

By Tarah Demant, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Today, nearly 3,000 people will be infected with HIV.  Yet, only 34% of young people in developing countries can answer five basic questions about HIV and how to prevent it.

Around the world, one woman dies every 90 seconds from complications of pregnancy or childbirth—more than 350,000 women every year.  The vast majority of these deaths are preventable—child marriage, unsafe and unprotected sex, and inadequate care during pregnancy all contribute to this alarming number.

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth, gender-based violence and AIDS are among the leading causes of mortality for young people. Complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries.

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Renowned Iranian HIV/AIDS Doctor Imprisoned For Doing His Job

Update 8/29/11: Dr. Arash Alaei has been released! Thank you to everyone who took action!

Dr. Arash Alaei teaching

Dr. Arash Alaei teaching © Physicians For Human Rights

Brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei, both doctors, have dedicated their lives to helping some of the most marginalized and stigmatized groups in Iranian society—HIV-infected drug users and prison inmates. They established innovative and humane public health programs and became internationally recognized experts in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Their hard work brought rare favorable world attention to the Islamic Republic; the programs the brothers created were considered models by the international health community.

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Changing the Battle Against AIDS in South Africa

hiv_sa_150Yesterday on World AIDS Day, South Africa was in the news quite a bit. The executive director of UNAIDS was in Pretoria for the commemoration and along with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, called for greater HIV prevention measures. South Africa has the largest population of person’s living with HIV-nearly 6 million people. Globally, women are disproportionally affected by HIV and AIDS as the fastest rising group contracting the virus. In South Africa, women account for approximately 62% of all persons over age 15 living with HIV.

South Africa has a sad history of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Despite relentless calls by Nelson Mandela’s 46664 organization for comprehensive government programs, South Africa under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki was a tragic wasteland of an epidemic. At one point, Mbeki promoted a policy of natural herbs for treatment, continuously under-funded anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and condom disbursement programs and committed many other policy failures that many blame for not only doing little to lower infection rates but in fact contributing to an increased infection rate.

Thus far, the Zuma presidency has been markedly different. Yesterday the administration announced increased access for vulnerable populations, including “all HIV-positive children under the age of one would be eligible for treatment,” more pregnant women will receive ART, and more person’s dual diagnosed with tuberculosis will also receive ART. Further, Zuma committed the government to “ensuring that all health facilities in the country are equipped to offer HIV counselling, testing and treatment” rather than only those approved as ART dispersal centers.

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Forcible Evictions of HIV-positive Families in Cambodia

Yesterday morning, the Cambodian government forcibly evicted about 20 families living with HIV/AIDS from their homes in Borei Keila and resettled them at Tuol Sambo, a resettlement site just outside the capital, Phnom Penh. The site lacks clean water and electricity and has limited access to medical services. Evicted families were compensated with inadequate housing at the site and 50 kilograms of rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, water jars and US$250, but they were warned that anyone who did not comply with the move would not receive compensation. A human rights worker present during the transition described the families as despondent and noted that those who are ill were exhausted by the move.

When Amnesty International visited the site – in a semi-rural area where houses are built from green metal sheets – villagers in the vicinity saw it as a place for HIV/AIDS victims. The evicted families expressed fears that being forced to live in this separate, distinct location will bring more discrimination and stigmatization than they already are forced to deal with because of their status as HIV-positive.

Forced evictions are a tactic Cambodia has employed more and more often, and this is not the first time the Cambodian government has taken this sort of action against people living with HIV-AIDS. In March 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh resettled an additional 32 families living with HIV/ AIDS against their will in temporary green, corrugated-metal shelters in appalling conditions to make way for the construction of a number of new houses. The families believe that the authorities are discriminating against them because of their HIV status.

Honduras: Two Transgender Women Killed, Another Threatened

Tegucigalpa is quite a dangerous place these days for transgender people. As if being marginalized by the larger society and frequently harrassed by police weren’t enough, the transgender community in the Honduran capital now faces a much graver threat. With two transgender women killed in the area in the last three months, and another who is an HIV/AIDS activist severely beaten by police (who had initially tried to rob her), fear is surely in the air. The HIV/AIDS activist, who was beaten in late December, was so afraid that she specifically asked Amnesty not to make her name public. It’s high time the Honduran government fulfills its obligation to protect all its citizens. You can take action online, or write your own letter.

Has anyone ever faced violence or harrassment because of sexual orientation or gender identity? What did you do about it? Did anyone help you?

AIDS is a Human Rights Issue

Today is twenthieth anniversary of the first World AIDS Day, established to commemorate those who have died of the disease and marshal attention to address the epidemic.   The World AIDS Campaign has declared “Lead-Empower-Deliver“ to be the theme for this year. 

For the last several years, AI has been zeroing in on the message that AIDS is a human rights issue.   Human rights abuses place people at greater risk of contracting HIV, and, all too often, those living with HIV and AIDS are subjected to human rights abuses. 

Check out Amnesty’s special web feature in honor of World AIDS Day.

Nowhere is the link between human rights abuses and HIV and AIDS clearer than in South Africa, where women, particularly those living in rural areas, face not only high HIV prevalence and high levels of sexual violence, but also widespread poverty.  AI’s report, I am at the lowest end of all, draws on the stories of women who, having contracted HIV as a result of violence, must now overcome extreme poverty and disrcimination in order to obtain treatement.

Circling back to this year’s theme of leadership, Amnesty wants to know how governments measure up to our 10-point plan of action on HIV and AIDS and human rights.  How is the U.S. doing?  What changes would you like President-elect Obama to make to U.S. policy on HIV and AIDS when he takes office?