About the Author: Kristin M. Kane is a Public Diplomacy Officer in the Bureau of International Organization (IO) Affairs. She is attending CSW as part of the USUN-New York Press and Public Diplomacy team.
When I walked into Conference Room 4 of the Secretariat at the United Nations, I knew right away that this was not going to be a typical UN panel discussion. Seated at the head of the table was a woman with short-cropped, platinum blonde hair in a bright red shirt with bold white letters spelling "HIV Positive." She was singer Annie Lennox, formerly of the Eurythmics. The moderator, UNAIDS Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibe, opened up the session on a "Call for Action on Women, Girls, Gender, Equality, and HIV" by showing Annie Lennox's video "Sing" which she filmed in South Africa as part of her "Sing Campaign" after having been greatly inspired by Nelson Mandela. The video shows Lennox walking through villages, arm-in-arm with South African women and also playing with new babies in health centers and orphanages. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world -- 28 percent of pregnant women, according to one recent study.
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer was on the panel -- just the first of three side events she was to participate in the day, not to mention a number of meetings as well as a hearing on rape and violence by a group of Burmese village women. It seemed that there was no limit to the number of important events going on at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). It was difficult to be present at all of them, but Ambassador Verveer was certainly doing her best.
The panel was interesting not only because of Annie Lennox's star presence but also due to her impassioned pleas to better understand the role of women and HIV/AIDS. She opened the session by asking the audience, "You and I understand, but when you walk out into these streets of Manhattan, do people realize the effect that HIV and AIDS is having on women?" The audience shook their heads in frustration, and many called out "No!" As a woman and a mother, Lennox wants to "find effective and creative ways" to let people know that women are at the forefront of HIV/AIDS, to help reduce the stigma of the disease in places like South Africa and to make sure that male leaders better understand what is required to truly fight the pandemic.
The other panelists also brought forth unique and compelling arguments on how important it is to better integrate women into the global effort to fight HIV/AIDS. Indonesian activist Suksma Ratri is a leading voice for human rights in Asia because of her unique status -- she is an openly HIV-positive woman in a Muslim-majority country who has a HIV-negative daughter and more interestingly, an HIV-negative partner. (Ratri contracted HIV from her former husband who was abusive and did not inform her of his status.) Ratri spoke of the shock and even rage of people when they hear her situation -- yet as a woman, as a human being, she refuses to give up her inherent rights.
Ambassador Verveer talked about President Obama's new Global Health Initiative as one that is "women-centric" and uses an integrated model to addressing global health problems -- we can't silo women from health issues just as we can't silo HIV/AIDS from global security issues. Most importantly, she spoke of the importance of reminding the world that "the face of this pandemic is a woman's face."Related Entry: Commission on the Status of Women Annual Meeting Opens in New York