Governments, advocates urge evidence over ideology in the fight to end AIDSJune 10, 2016 | United Nations, New York

High-level decision-makers and civil society advocates converged on UN Headquarters last week to usher in the adoption of concrete commitments towards ending the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030.

Several Members of the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD were on hand to advocate for all human rights for all people – including sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly for women, adolescent girls, young people and key populations – as fundamental to ending HIV and AIDS. Mariela Castro (Cuba), Bience Gawanas (Namibia), Lambert Grijns (The Netherlands), Holo Hachonda (Zambia), Carol Kidu (Papua New Guinea), and Alessandra Nilo (Brazil) served on their national delegations and spoke at official panels and various side events, urging decision-makers to prioritize evidence over ideology in the global effort to halt the spread of HIV and end AIDS by 2030.

Castro spoke during the official panel on ending stigma and discrimination, emphasizing the importance of evidence-based, inclusive, multi-sectoral approaches, including comprehensive sexuality education. Ending the epidemic requires eliminating “the social stigma, discrimination, [and] exclusion … of people living HIV and vulnerable populations,” she said, adding that “practices that criminalize people based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as the lack of legal protection for hate crimes, are violations of human rights and dignity that delay efforts to fast-track the end of HIV/AIDS.” Read her speech in English and Spanish, and watch the video.

At an event on addressing global health emergencies, Nilo drew attention to the politics and ideologies that act as barriers to effective responses to epidemics such as AIDS, Zika, and Ebola. She lamented the influence of conservative religious forces at global and national levels that suppress people’s vital access to information and spread misconceptions about human sexuality, creating setbacks to fulfilling sexual and reproductive health and rights and scaling up comprehensive sexuality education.

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Nilo also urged a holistic approach that considers the medical, human rights, financing, and other aspects of prevention and response together, while drawing attention to the many layers of stigma and discrimination that prevent people from getting the care they need. “Why are we not talking about the State’s responsibility in addressing stigma as a priority? because stigma is never related to just one issue – sexuality, gender, HIV status….layers of stigma come together,” she said. Read more about the event and watch the video.

Dame Kidu, at an event hosted by the governments of Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, UNPFA and UNAIDS, decried the denial and abuse of SRHR, pointing out that adolescent girls and women, people living with HIV and key populations pay the highest price. “SRHR are not optional rights – they must be exercised without stigma, discrimination, violence or persecution across an individual’s life cycle,” she said. She went on to call for criminalization of all forms of gender-based violence, and to stop practices that stand in the way of women and adolescent girls accessing SRH and HIV services, like parental and spousal consent requirements. Kidu also engaged women’s rights advocates and young women leaders in a lively dialogue at the #WhatWomenWant side event organized by the Athena Network with UN agencies. Kidu spoke emphatically about the often overlooked realities and basic needs of women living with HIV and the pressing need to address them holistically. She also discussed women’s empowerment, sharing her own fascinating shorty as the sole woman legislator among 111 parliamentarians in Papua new Guinea.

The formal adoption of the meeting’s Political Declaration was followed by a General Statement delivered by the Government of Argentina on behalf of 50 countries, affirming their commitment to invest in a human rights and gender-responsive approach to ending AIDS, emphasizing the centrality of the human rights of women and girls and the SRHR of all people, as well as the critical role of civil society, in ending AIDS. The Statement will form part of the official record of the High-Level Meeting. Read the statement here.