Today marks the opening of a United Nations general assembly “high level meeting” on Aids in New York City that will evaluate the progress of that body’s response to the pandemic over the past five years and set the agenda for the next decade. Serra Sippel, president of the Centre for Health and Gender Equity (Change), declares that “this meeting is where we decide how serious we are about beating HIV, and how serious we are about women’s equality.” If so, the Holy See has left no doubt about their stance on either issue.
For months now, their all-male team has been trying to strip all references to sexual and reproductive health and rights from the meeting’s declaration; gutting all mentions of education and prevention other than marriage and fidelity; and insisting that “families” be replaced with “the family”, as though that monolith even exists or that it provides some kind of magic shield against HIV.
Either the Holy See does not understand, or does not care that their hardline stance is not actually “pro-life” in any sense. They ask that paragraph 60 of the declaration, which addresses research and development for treating and curing HIV, delete all mention of “female-controlled prevention methods”. This despite the fact that female condoms and the very promising looking microbicides now being developed have no relation to abortion and represent the single greatest potential life saver for women worldwide.
Ditto for paragraph 58, which makes the all-important and entirely sensible promise that the UN will “commit to ensuring that national responses to HIV and Aids meet the specific needs of women and girls”. The Holy See, allied with the African Group and Iran, asks for the deletion of the very sentence that spells out what that really means:
“… by ensuring that women and girls can exercise their right to have control over, and decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality in order to increase their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
Control over women’s bodies > women’s actual lives.