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UK activists with Michel Sidibe:Bisi Alimi, Angelina Namiba, WInnie Sseruma, Silvia Petretti

This was a pretty eventful week. At a very short notice had to go to Turin, on behalf of the
Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) to contribute to a training for the International Labour Organization (ILO). I applaud ILO for putting together a two weeks course on HIV for people who work to promote better and more just work practices. During my session I spoke about the impact of HIV stigma and discrimination in the work place and presented data from the GNP+ research: the Stigma Index and the Human Rights Count. Those two pieces of research provide evidence of discrimination and of human rights violations in the world of work, and the impact they have not only on the individual but also on the household, and especially on girls: who often have to take extra caring responsibility and even stop going to school in order to contribute to their family income, when somebody loses her/his job, because of HIV based discrimination. It is great to feel that I can be part of GNP+ efforts of moving from anecdote to evidence, from evidence to policy, and from policy (hopefully) to good practice. I asked all the participants to take time everyday at the end of the day to think what they could do on a personal level to reach out to people living with HIV, and then scale it up: to their household, their work place, their area, their city their region, their country etc. Change starts with each and everyone of us.

This was on Monday, on Tuesday I had been asked by the UK Consortium on AIDS and Development to chair a meeting between Civil Society and Michel Sidibe the Executive Director of UNAIDS. To say I was nervous is an understatement. And to the budding activists who I hope may be reading my blog I have to say that this is such a part of ‘ becoming an activist” you are given opportunities that you feel are totally beyond yourself. But in spite of the nerves, or the fear of doing or saying something wrong, you have to do it. Especially as people living with HIV our involvement can give always another direction and weight to the discussion. So we need to prepare and try to promote the issues that matter to us…. We can only learn by doing. And other people can only hear the truth from us, who are directly affected.

The meeting was opened by David Bull the CEO of UNICEF UK, who were hosting the meeting in their building. David Bull reminded us of the efforts UNICEF had made to put children at the centre of the HIV agenda and how important the UN commitments to the “Global Plan to eliminate new infection among children, and keeping their mothers alive” (for comments on the disempowering language used in this statement please see this article). As chair of the meeting I used my privilege to remind him that as women living with HIV we are the best ally to ensure babies are HIV free, and the best way to do so it is to ensure that our rights are advanced and protected, and that we can live lives free from violence and coercion. The same point was later on picked up by my friend Angelina Namiba who was talking about Gender and HIV and pointing out how gender inequality in the economic and political spheres still affects us in terms of vulnerability to HIV and quality of life, especially for those of us who are living with HIV. Angelina also applauded Michel for his action following the Washington Meeting with women”s networks. He has since made sure UNAIDS commissioned a thematic report on women living with HIV and leadership which will soon be out, and for initiating the Dialogue Platform for Women and Girls, which will inform UNAIDS agenda on women and girls and seems a real step forward in ensuring the meaningful involvement of women living with HIV in all UNAIDS work.

An important issue was also raised by the UK Consortium working group on care and support: the need to create better criteria to support carers ( who very often are women…another gender issue, really). At present the UN declaration that came out of the High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS, doesn’t have any targets in this area, and doesn’t address the issues that carers face, who most time work tirelessly without any retribution or recognition.

Michel was very receptive to the whole discussion. He admitted that everybody agrees in principle on gender issues and advancing women’s rights, but still little action ensues…I couldn’t agree more!

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