Women's Rights Are Human Rights

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Michael Stulman (202) 546-7961

Women's Rights Are Human Rights

UN theme is Equal rights, equal opportunities: progress for all.

WASHINGTON - Monday, March 8th marks International Women's Day, and the 15th
anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women,
held in Beijing. 189 countries signed on to a Beijing Platform for
Action, pledging to work towards the advancement of women and the
achievement of gender equality.

On this day, Africa Action celebrates the many achievements of women. 
Throughout the continent, women are organizing to strengthen and
reinforce women's movements and civil society organization's capacity
for gender advocacy and activism.  Take for example, the political
leadership emerging among women in Rwanda, Ethiopia, or Liberia.  There
are also vibrant civil society organizations across the continent
working to enhance women's rights, including Zimbabwe's Women of
Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Zambia's Women For Change (WFC), or the
Daughters of Mũmbi Global Resource Center in Kenya.

Sadly, we also mark the occasion with a recognition that the global
HIV/AIDS crisis continues to take a disproportionate toll on women.
Africa Action calls on the U.S. and international policymakers to do
more to address the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV/AIDS and
other health challenges.

Today, women still face discrimination and inequality.  HIV/AIDS is the
leading cause of death of women of between the ages of 15-44.

To
address the effects of HIV/AIDS on women, Africa Action urges U.S.
policymakers to support HIV prevention programs that are targeted to
women, which empower them to make their own sexual decisions.  HIV
treatment programs must include drugs to prevent mother-to-child
transmission, and treatment access to women must be ensured so they
continue to lead productive and healthy lives.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the
region most heavily affected by HIV, and in 2008 accounted for 67
percent of HIV infections worldwide.  Women represent the majority of
infections, accounting for about 60 percent.  In Cote d'Ivoire, for
example, the HIV prevalence among women was twice as high as among
males in 2005, and women in South Africa are three times as likely to
contract HIV than men.

The high rate of sexual violence is one
of the main contributors to HIV infections among women.  The BBC
reports that 70 percent of women around the globe are forced to have
unprotected sex.  A recent study in
Lesotho found that 47 percent of men and 40 percent of women believe
that women have no right to refuse sex with their husbands or
boyfriends.

More broadly, the disproportionate effect of the epidemic on women is a
result of gender inequality, with AIDS services not responding to the
needs of women.  Women are also increasingly vulnerable to the epidemic
due to social, legal and economic disadvantages.

Even in the U.S., about one in four Americans living with HIV are
women, and among African American women, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause
of death for those between the ages of 25 and 34.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria takes into
account women's experiences, as women affected by the disease
contribute to the the Fund's treatment and prevention programs.  The
United Nations Trust Fund grantees in 2009 also make a compelling case
for how much can be done with strategic support. For example, in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, a grantee equipped 300 civil society
leaders with new knowledge of paralegal services that permitted
thousands of women survivors of sexual violence, including many with
HIV, to access justice.

Africa Action and civil society organizations across Africa have
charged that President Obama's global health budget plan represents a
significant reduction from commitments made in campaign promises and by
Congressional pledges.  In a report released in 2009, Africa Action and
other human rights organizations, evaluated President Obama's first
year in office-giving the President and his Administration a 'D+' for
work so far on HIV/AIDS.  President's first budget request to Congress,
for fiscal year 2010, essentially froze spending for global AIDS at
fiscal year 2009 levels.

Finally, Africa Action calls for better health care services,
especially reproductive health care, that can be made accessible and
affordable to women everywhere.  Many African governments are unable to
devote adequate funds to public health, due to the outstanding debt. 
Debt cancellation is one way to encourage the allocation of more
resources to HIV/AIDS treatment and education programs focused on
prevention.  Even in the U.S., women in economically disadvantaged
communities are often unable to receive adequate basic healthcare and
HIV treatment, and more funding must be devoted to health services in
these areas.

Ultimately, the disproportionate effect of HIV/AIDS on women indicates
that women's human rights are not being adequately protected.  Women
are often the backbone of African society responsible for educating
children, running households as well as performing fundamental income
generating activities that are crucial to subsistence.

Women's right to health must be enforced through access to treatment
and prevention programs that allow them to persevere in their pivotal
roles, and live long, productive, and fulfilling lives. As long as
women continue to suffer sexual violence, whether in a situation of
armed conflict or at the hands of their husbands and partners, their
physical and mental health will be increasingly at risk.  While health
resources, including those relating to HIV/AIDS, are fundamental to
ensuring women's rights, the international community must take a
holistic approach in everything from foreign policy to aid and trade to
prevent the continued and systematic undervaluation of women throughout
the world. 

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Africa Action is a national organization that works for political, economic and social justice in Africa. Through the provision of accessible information and analysis combined with the mobilization of public pressure we work to change the policies and policy-making processes of U.S. and multinational institutions toward Africa. The work of Africa Action is grounded in the history and purpose of its predecessor organizations, the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), The Africa Fund, and the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), which have fought for freedom and justice in Africa since 1953. Continuing this tradition, Africa Action seeks to re-shape U.S. policy toward African countries.

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