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The Johannesburg position on HIV/AIDS and women's and girls' rights in Africa

April 2006

SARPN acknowledges ActionAid as the source of this document.
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We, African women including HIV positive women, women's rights activists, feminists, scholars, professionals, community workers and policy makers from the African continent participating in the African Women's Regional Consultation on Women's and Rights and HIV/AIDS in Africa, in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 6-7, 2006 are:

Deeply concerned that despite various interventions aimed at prevention, care, support and treatment of HIV and AIDS, the global pandemic has had and continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of African women and girls;

Further concerned that in spite of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls, governments are yet to recognise the centrality of promoting and protecting women's and girls' human rights in all HIV and AIDS interventions;

Mindful of the fact that the assault on women's human rights continues through various forms of violence against women and girls, including, but not limited to: rape, marital rape, domestic violence, trafficking, harmful customary and traditional practices, violence and torture during conflict, forced marriages and early marriages. These forms of violence take place: within homes, at work, in schools, in clinics and hospitals, at police stations and many other places and they are continuing and increasing at an alarming rate fuelling HIV infections amongst women and girls;

Recognising that violence against women and girls is a key driver of increased risk and vulnerability to HIV infection among African women and girls;

Aware that unequal power relations between women and men result in the inability of many African women and girls to negotiate safe and pleasurable sex;

Acknowledging that women living in militarised communities and zones of armed conflict face peculiar and heightened risks of HIV infection as a result of violence , sexual crimes and torture perpetrated against women and girls, in war and emergency situations or as refugees and internally displaced persons, with extremely limited protection of their human rights;

Further acknowledging that women's: low socio-economic status, lack of access to and control over empowering and emancipating resources such as land and property increases women's and girls' exposure to many dehumanising cultural norms, beliefs and practices that undermine women's and girls' emotional, spiritual and psychological well being, choices and agency, bodily integrity and self esteem and increase their vulnerability to HIV infection;

Noting with grave concern, that little investment has been made in securing women's and girls' sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of a pandemic that robs many women of their choices related to childbearing and rearing, and the enjoyment of their full sexual rights;

Concerned that diminishing investments at the national and international level in the education of women and girls has an adverse effect on the ability of women and girls to access HIV and AIDS information, education and services that are critical for: the prevention of new infections, re-infections, for treatment and care knowledge and protection of women's and girls' human rights;

Further concerned that women and girls, and in particular; HIV positive women, women living with AIDS and orphaned girls, have been forced to become the backbone of the community, family based care and nursing systems; with limited knowledge and skills, without resources, remuneration or other forms of state support, further adding to their already disproportionate burden of care and support for PLWHA, in contexts of extreme poverty and inadequate state health services;

Dismayed that, notwithstanding the firm commitment to the indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights, and the crisis of HIV/AIDS in Africa, women's and girls' human rights are ignored by international financial and trade institutions-WTO, IMF, World Bank. The aforementioned institutions urge African governments to withdraw investment from health; to privatise basic services such as health and to prioritise debt repayments in the face of two major pandemics in the continent-HIV/AIDS and violence against women. These multilateral donors are yet to commit significant resources to institutionalise women's rights as central pillars for halting the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.

Mindful of the fact that both the Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other Related Infectious Diseases of 2001 and the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS of 2001 are under review in 2006, presenting clear opportunities for heads of state and government to promote and protect African women's and girls' rights in order to mitigate the impact of the HIV and AIDS epidemic on women and girls, and to halt the pandemic in Africa by taking action to:

Reaffirm commitments heads of state and government have made through regional and international agreements on HIV&AIDS, and women's human rights, in particular, the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979); Vienna Declaration on Human Rights (1993); International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD Plan of Action (1994); Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), All the African Regional Conferences on Women; The Millennium Declaration (2000); Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003); Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2004) amongst others;

We acknowledge that limited progress has been made in the response to AIDS at global and national levels in respect of raising resources and extending access to services;

We Stress with deep concern that in spite of the various commitments to action, the provision of resources and the promotion and protection of the human rights of African women and girls, given the devastating scale and impact of the HIV and AIDS pandemic on African women and girls, there is need for renewed urgent actions, at all levels and in all sectors, to promote and protect the human rights of African women and girls.

We note with urgency that there is a critical need to move from rhetoric to action if we are to see a major change in the spread of the HIV and AIDS pandemic and its increasing and alarming feminisation.

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