Stephen Lewis accuses UNAIDS of trivializing women

unaidsStephen Lewis, a man familiar with both the United Nations and its agencies and with HIV/AIDS, blasted UNAIDS for trivializing women in its International Women’s Day message.

In fact, Lewis suggested that UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé’s statement bordered on misogyny.

Lewis made the statements in a weekly video column he prepares for AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization of which he is co-director.

He led the commentary, which ran just under four minutes, with the findings of an EU survey on violence against women, released on 5 March. In that survey of more than 42,000 women from the 28 member states, researchers from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found:

  • 33% of women said they’d experienced physical and/or sexual violence since age 15;
  • 22%  experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner;
  • 5% of  women have been raped;
  • of women who were raped by a partner, 31% of respondents said they’d experienced six or more incidents by their current partner; and
  • only 13-14% reported the most serious incident of violence (by a partner or non-partner)  to the police or other organization.

“This survey simply confirms what is going on – the contagion of sexual violence – around the world, much of it possibly transmitting the AIDS virus,” said Lewis, who was the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006.

“So you would think that on International Women’s Day, UNAIDS would issue one of those stirring statements to demonstrate its commitment to ending violence against women. Instead, you had the most insubstantial, superficial clutter of three or four paragraphs,” Lewis said.

The entire UNAIDS statement, issued under Sidibé’s name, read:

“We know well that it is our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who make it happen. Women around the world are running countries, businesses and raising children. In the AIDS response, it is more likely to be women who care for the sick. It is women who care for their families and communities and it is women who look after the most vulnerable in society.

“ ‘Women make it happen, but it doesn’t always happen for women.’ Women face many forms of discrimination.

“It is also women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners, are more likely to become infected with HIV and are marginalized in many societies. One out of three women is physically or sexually abused by a partner in her lifetime. Every hour, 50 young women are newly infected with HIV. Half of all people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries are women – and new HIV infections among women are on the rise in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

“Women must be free to make decisions about their health, lives and futures. On this International Women’s Day, let’s all stand up for women, together we can make it happen.”

Lewis called the statement “really insulting and trivializing women, as always of course, with a slogan in the middle.”

Of  the “Women make it happen but it doesn’t always happen for women” slogan, Lewis said, “Is that stirring and memorable,or is that stirring and memorable?”

“Somewhere,” he added, “there has got to be an international women’s organization that monitors the insubstantial drivel that emerges from time to time from United Nations agencies. Where it concerns women, it verges on indifference, contempt, even misogyny.”

Hear Lewis’s entire commentary here:

One response

  1. As usual, Lewis is spot on… and he has no fear of words.

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