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By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and Co-Founder of the blog Café Thawra

As the world turned red and celebrated World AIDS Day 2009 yesterday around the theme « Universal Access and Human Rights », I would like to raise awareness about the plight of women living with HIV who would have liked to become mothers, only to be forced and talked out of it, or only to discover that they had been sterilized. Yes, you’ve read correctly.

Sterilized. Forced to. Or made to feel guilty about their natural desire to have children. Or without no one bothering to inform them about the already-performed sterilization.

Have I left enough space for you to ponder on the extreme barbarity of such an action? Yes? Right, let us now move to a more detailed examination of this unspeakable phenomenon.

Forced or coerced sterilisation is defined as the use of intimidation, fear, pressure duress or deception to get “consent” for the sterilisation procedure”. It is – and it goes without saying- a gross violation of a woman’s Human and Reproductive Rights. Indeed, it simply goes against Article 16(e) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), that states:


States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:

(e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights;”

Depending on the interpretation and the circumstances of the sterilization, such an act could also be filed as an inhuman and degrading treatment, a kind of treatment no human being should ever be put through, as stated in Article 7 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (CCPR). What’s that I hear? The voices of the “Yes, but the CCPR is not legally binding for non-signatories States blah-blah-blah”. People! The right to not be subjected to torture or any ill treatment is common law, meaning UNIVERSAL, meaning EVERYONE and EVERY STATE is bound to respect it. End of story.

Many HIV positive women, from Chile to Namibia, have been forced, coerced or tricked into sterilization, or simply not informed about what the doctors were doing to them. Because the judgement and prejudice surrounding HIV positive women wanting to have children is so strong, women who come to hospitals to be cared for or to give birth find themselves sterilized when they go out of the clinic. The way of doing it can be different: either health professionals make them feel guilty about having more children because of their status, arguing that their children will be HIV positive, or doctors, to keep the appearance of legality, make women sign forms in a language they don’t understand, or when they’re on their way to the labour room. Hence women signing to an agreement for their sterilization because they trusted whatever the doctors were telling them was written on the form. In many cultures, doctors are seen as semi-Gods, and people simply tend to consider their words as Gospel. Stigma and Discrimination only multiply after the sterilization, as the ability to have children is often one of the most important criteria for a woman’s status in many societies.

Use Your Holiday Spirit to Fight HIV and AIDS - Photo by Lara Zankoul

However, it is not only doctors and health professionals who are to blame for these actions. Indeed, attention has to be paid to governmental laws that validate such practices. The International Community of Women Living with HIV has filed a complaint against the government of Namibia for the forced sterilization of 15 women. The proceedings have started on October 20th 2009, and the issue of the trial will no doubt have a strong impact on the regional and global practices regarding this issue. Earlier this year, a positive Chilean woman who had been sterilized without consent went to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to defend her rights.

Her right not to be discriminated against, her right for equality, her right to decide for herself how many children she wants to have.

Oh, and by the way, it is still important to be reminded that mother-to-child transmission (vertical transmission) of HIV is almost entirely preventable where services and medication are available. However, there is still a lot of work ahead to reach the level in developing countries where prospective positive mothers have access to treatment, and where their Human Rights are respected.

It astounds me to have to state the obvious, but People Living with HIV’s Rights are Human Rights. Do you hear that, governments? Atta boys.

Now change your laws.

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co-founder of the blog Café Thawra

Today, let us broach a rather difficult subject.

Oh, I might as well tell you right from the beginning, so you know where you stand.


I’m talking about female condoms.

Go on, blush. Or maybe don’t, I don’t know, it’s not because I blushed at first that you have to react in the same way.

And yes, I admit to a fair amount of blushing the first couple of times I heard about it and saw it being demonstrated. See, this was before I started working for the Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies in their HIV department and for a women’s rights organisation.

Now, I demonstrate it to young women, advocate for it, and badger my friends during our dinners for them to be aware of the Female Condom. Probably not the best way to entertain a dinner party, but a girl has to do what she has to do, and if it involves making your friends shriek with laughter and urge you to keep your voice down or think you might be a tad obsessed with work, then so be it. I’m willing to carry the disgrace.

In my, admittedly short, but intense experience as a women’s rights worker, I have noticed how curious women were towards the female condom. Oh they won’t come up straight to you and ask you for a presentation, but will rather start their approach cautiously, like « Paola ? What is this on your documentation’s table? », innocence personified, as if it was just a random question. You know they’re interested, but don’t want to push them and scare them away, so you listen carefully to their questions, until you sense that they’re comfortable enough for you to ask your question: “Would you like me to open it and demonstrate it so you know what it’s about?”. Enthusiastic yes coming from blushing faces. I’ll always remember when a delegation of Sudanese women came to pay us a visit at our offices in Geneva and dropped in the conversation “Oh, by the way, we’ve never ever seen a condom (male or female)”. Our HIV Coordinator jumped to her feet, and started the demonstration and explanation, and before we knew it, our guests were examining the condoms in disbelief, laughing, thinking of how their men would react should they bring up this issue in front of them.


And this is when the female condom is brilliant. Not all women on this planet have the extreme privilege of being able to negotiate the use of a male condom with their partners. Some even get beaten up for daring to talk about it, some don’t even know it exists. This leads to a situation where a woman is completely dependent on her husband/boyfriend when it comes to contraception and self-protection. In many cultures, women are not supposed to watch the numbers of children they’ll have, their primary role being motherhood, nor are they even allowed to question the sex life of their husbands. So if a woman has doubts regarding the faithfulness of her partner, she won’t be able to ask him to wear a condom in order to protect herself from HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Besides, even if a woman can talk about this issue with her partner, the female condom enables to share the contraception and protection duties, becoming equally responsible for the couple’s health and future.

The use of the female condom thus reduces the vulnerability of women by rendering them more independent. Because a female condom (FC or FC2 type) can be inserted up to 8 hours before sexual intercourse, women can be their own protective agent and stop relying on men when it comes to their own sexual and reproductive health – as well as to other healthcare issues, like medicines side effects (in case of Xarelto® Lawsuits | Get Information About The 2017 Settlements). Nevertheless, condom distribution is nothing if it isn’t coupled with education and negotiation skills for women.For example, what’s the point of knowing that chlamydia tests exists if you don’t know where to get a chlamydia test.
If the man is violent or drunk, that he doesn’t even notice his partner wearing a female condom, but this is not the situation we should aim for. Indeed, if a man refuses to wear a male condom and realises his wife/girlfriend is wearing one, the woman will most likely suffer from ill treatment, with all sorts of name-calling, as I’ll let you imagine.

Thing is, many men don’t want to wear a condom because they claim that it reduces their pleasure etc…A good argument for negotiating protection for women would be to present the female condom as something that would increase their pleasure. No matter under which light we present the condom, negotiation skills are paramount to condom programming and should be part of any serious condom distribution, along with demonstration.

However, the female condom, as all contraceptive methods, has its own disadvantages: it is rather expensive, and not particularly user-friendly.

But even these drawbacks can’t hide the potential revolution in the Female Condom. It is high time women claim back their sexual and reproductive rights, and it starts with their own selves.

Women of the world, be your own agents of change!

crossposted from

According to a new report published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimated 50 million women in Asia, who are either married or in long-term relationships with men who engage in high-risk sexual behaviours, are at risk of becoming infected with HIV from their partners.

logo unaids_en

The HIV epidemics in Asia vary between countries in the region, but are fuelled by unprotected paid sex, the sharing of contaminated injecting equipment by injecting drug users, and unprotected sex among men who have sex with men. Men who buy sex constitute the largest infected population group – and most of them are either married or will get married. This puts a significant number of women, often perceived as ‘low-risk’ because they only have sex with their husbands or long-term partners, at risk of HIV infection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cordaid and Partners reward Home Based Care Leadership in responding to HIV and AIDS. Win up to 15.000 Euro!


AIDS has changed the fabric of communities around the world and placed a burden on the lives of many people, especially girls and women, young and old. With health systems failing and people living longer with HIV thanks to access to Antiretrovirals (ARVs), mainly poor women, are increasingly forced to devote their time, energy, skills and the little resources to care for their family members at home and provide their services to the wider community, often at great expense to themselves. This invisible task-shifting is insufficiently recognised, valued and validated as work.

Prize of €15.000 and €5.000 for HBC Leadership

The Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development (Cordaid) and partners of the Caregivers Action Alliance’s (CAA) Organising Committee (HelpAge International, Huairou Commission, VSO International) as well as the World YWCA, reward and encourage leadership around the strengthening of home based care in responding to HIV and AIDS in the “global South” by awarding €15.000 for an organisation and €5.000 for an individual. Cordaid and partners are seeking applications from organisations or individuals committed to supporting home based care as a necessary, effective, and community-based initiative – recognising home based care as an insufficiently resourced, under-valued and unrecognized solution for mitigating the effects of HIV and AIDS.

How to submit

Submissions can be sent up to 15 September 2009. To download the Rules and Procedures as well as the Application Form, visit the website: For more information please contact or visit

In preparation for the 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, as people of faith it is important to take some time and space to ourselves and reflect.  This year’s theme — “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS” — encourages us to look to our own daily lives for the most basic examples of how labor is divided between men and women.  Who decides how such decisions are made?  How much flexibility is present in the sharing of responsibilities?  Who carries a heavier burden, and what kinds of tasks are allotted to which people?

As members of a religious community, the second part of this theme must give us pause.  It is the faith-based community who, in the past, helped in perpetuating a negative stigma of people living with HIV and AIDS.  Our role in this negative stereotyping requires repentence, characterized by a prounounced humility and tremendous courage in naming our wrongdoing.  It is our role, before acting out in advocacy, to ask forgiveness of those whom we have wronged.

We can follow the example set by ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, who spoke this past summer at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.  Watch him speak and act in this video to help envision how we ourselves might repent as religious leaders.

preached by Emily Davila, EW Chair, on the anniversary of World AIDS Day
Advent Lutheran Church, New York City

Like the shepherds so long ago, I must share with you what I saw.

Like the shepherds so long ago, I must share with you what I saw.

I woke up this morning on World AIDS Day with many emails in my inbox from around the world.   World AIDS Day (WAD) is a time of social networks, and we celebrate it in many ways – we post liturgy on websites, email, worship, remember, give money, wear ribbons.  Today is the day that we do these things all at once, all over the world.  By sitting here in these pews we are part of a chain of reflection and action.

AIDS is with us in the US, but from my work at the Lutheran Office for World Community, an office representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) at the United Nations, I have seen the immense and tragic effects of AIDS’s in countries that are poorer than ours.  Having traveled to far off places, like the shepherds sent on a mission that winter night, I feel I must tell you what I have seen, that among suffering I have felt awe.  This witness is what I am going to talk about today. Read the rest of this entry »

Preparations for the upcoming United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) are well underway. Earlier this month, the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women convened an Expert Group Meeting on the priority theme for 2009.

The 2009 CSW will consider the theme “Equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.” This theme was explored with shared research and practical experience, resulting in background papers, expert papers and an online discussion amongst civil society.

In particular, I highlight the role of faith based communities that arose in the papers and online discussions. Of nine expert papers and four background papers, only one background paper mentioned the role of religious stakeholders. This reference was specifically related to address issues of “attitudes and stereotypes” regarding gender roles in society.

Read the rest of this entry »

Statistics show that women and girls comprise of nearly 90% of care providers. This is a huge burden on women, and very rarely does it receive adequate attention. Please help us by filling out a survey on
the topic of women and caregiving in the context of HIV and AIDS.


Your responses will be used to help us create our advocacy position and inform our research in the role of faith-based organizations advocating for the caretakers of those living with HIV and AIDS.    We very much
value your response. Please send your responses by Oct. 25.


Las estadísticas demuestran que las mujeres y las niñas están encargadas de casi el 90% del cuidado de las personas enfermas. Esto es una carga enorme para las mujeres y no recibe la atención adecuada. Le estamos enviando esta encuesta en preparación a la 53.a Sesión de la Comisión de la Condición Jurídica y Social de las Mujeres (CSW) que será celebrada en las Naciones Unidas en Nueva York del 2 al 13 de marzo del 2009. El tema de la reunión es “La distribución igualitaria de las responsabilidades entre las mujeres y los hombres, incluyendo el cuidado de pacientes afectados por el VIH/SIDA”.

Haz click aqui:

Sus respuestas a esta encuesta nos ayudarán en nuestro aporte a la Comisión, y contribuirá a nuestro trabajo de investigación sobre el rol de las organizaciones religiosas en la defensa de los derechos de las personas que están encargadas del cuidado de la gente viviendo con VIH y SIDA. Nosotras valoramos mucho su respuesta. Envíe por favor sus respuestas antes del 25 de octubre del 2008.

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