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Women empowerment to check Aids stressed

ISLAMABAD – The first Asia-Pacific Women, Girls HIV/Aids Best practices conference on Wednesday unanimously adopted a declaration calling for a check on growing impact of HIV/Aids and empowering women and girls to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

The draft declaration called: “Islamabad Agenda for Change-2004”, adopted after the conclusion of the three-day conference, stressed that the fundamental human rights of all women, men, girls and boys infected or affected by HIV/Aids must underpin all responses to the epidemic.

It also recommended immediate availability of care, support and treatment facilities to women, girls, men, boys and the most vulnerable sections, calling to address gender-based violence and sought constructive involvement of men in responses to HIV/Aids for women and girls.

The Islamabad agenda and a Pakistan-specific call for action would also be moved soon for legislative review. Earlier in the morning Acting President Mohammadmian Soomro signed the ‘Call for Action: Keeping the Promise’ which was also endorsed by 500 delegates, asking the government to take measures for curbing all forms of discrimination against women and girls.

UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/Aids in Asia-Pacific Dr Nafis Sadik and Health Minister Nasir Khan briefed media persons about the outcome of the conference at a press conference.

Canadian High Commissioner Margaret Huber, Manager National Aids Control Programme (NACP) Dr Asma Bokhari, UN Goodwill Ambassador on HIV/Aids singer Salman Ahmed were also present on the occasion.

The Islamabad agenda called to incorporate the reproductive sexual health education and services into policy and programmes to strengthen sexual and reproductive health rights and services. It also sought provision of HIV prevention, reproductive and sexual health information to women and girls through formal and informal education

The ‘call for action’ urged the government to enforce women’s property and inheritance rights, narrow gaps in laws on gender-based violence, implement its stated goal of national, free and compulsory education; and to improve access to heath care and service delivery for women, especially in the rural communities to reduce their vulnerability to HIV/Aids.

The agenda for change stressed that people living with HIV/Aids must be involved in all stages of policy, planning and implementation and that since inequalities between men and women fuel the epidemic, the separate needs and realities of women and men must be addressed in all research, programming and policy.

It also demanded recognition of religious and community leaders as role models to reduce the impact of HIV/Aids on women and girls. It also urged political, religious and community leaders to encourage delaying age of marriage to enable girls to protect themselves from HIV.

The rights of women and men to information about the HIV status of their partners must also be considered in the overall context of prevention, the document recommended, and called upon the civil society and governments to join hands to put into practice existing policy and commitments at the national, regional and international levels.

Nasir Khan during the press conference said that women’s socio-political empowerment was critical to the fulfilment of their basic rights and assured that legislative steps would be taken to guarantee women’s right to inheritance.

Dr Nafis Sadik said half of the people infected with HIV worldwide, were not aware of their infection and that the number of people living with HIV/Aids would rise with improvement in surveillance systems and encouragement of voluntary counselling and free testing. The Canadian High Commissioner pledged her government’s support in Pakistan’s endeavours to fight the epidemic.

Source: Dawn

Date:12/2/2004

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