Addressing Women’s Vulnerability
In 1988, Rights and Humanity was commissioned by WHO to undertake the first major study on the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on women’s rights. Our report was presented to the UN Commission on the Status of Women at its meeting in Vienna in February, 1989. This study was undertaken by Rights and Humanity’s President with the research assistance of Ms Sukey Field, a specialist in gender issues.
Rights and Humanity’s report revealed that:
The devastating health and social consequences of HIV/AIDS affects both men and women. But the susceptibility of women to the adverse consequences of the pandemic is exacerbated by gender-based discrimination.
Women’s disadvantaged social and legal status, their insecure economic position, and the risk of violence against women in the family and society all increase their vulnerability to HIV infection. HIV/AIDS reaches beyond women's health to their roles as mothers and caregivers and their contributions to the economic support of their families.
Our President also helped compile a special issue of the UN’s publication Women 2000, entitled “AIDS and its Effects of the Advancement of Women”. This was published by the UN Office in Vienna, Austria in 1989.
The reports Rights and Humanity wrote for the Commission on the Status of Women and for Women 2000 were the first international papers to highlight the vulnerability of women to the risk of HIV infection as a result of their disadvantaged status and helped overcome the misinformed assumption that AIDS was a “gay man’s disease”.
Survey of UK Women’s Organisations Working on AIDS
In 1989, WHO commissioned Rights and Humanity to undertake a survey of women’s organisations in the UK with AIDS programmes in Britain or overseas. This brought to light some of the obstacles facing women in protecting themselves from the risk of HIV, and enabled us to make recommendations for strengthening the response.
Rights and Humanity’s research revealed that police in the UK were using the possession of condoms by women as evidence of soliciting for prostitution – a criminal offence in England. This contradicted the public health message calling for the use of condoms as a means of preventing HIV transmission
Women and AIDS: The Social Context
In 1990, our AIDS Programme Director, Dr Renée Danziger, presented a paper “Women and AIDS: The Social Context” at a Belgian Red Cross Symposium. She highlighted the vulnerability of women to HIV and its consequences due to their disadvantaged status. In addition, women, including elderly women, frequently bear the brunt of caring for sick family members and children orphaned through AIDS.
First Paper on Women’s Rights at International AIDS Conference
Rights and Humanity’s President and Dr Danziger jointly presented the first paper on women’s rights and AIDS at an International Conference on AIDS. Our paper “Women and AIDS: A Human Rights Perspective” at the VII International AIDS Conference in Florence, Italy, in June 1991, re-emphasised the vulnerability of women and called for the realisation of women’s rights as an effective AIDS prevention strategy.