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Women Take Center Stage at Landmark HIV/AIDS Conference

( [email protected] ) Jul 05, 2007 07:47 AM EDT
The first-ever international conference on women’s leadership in the battle against HIV/AIDS opened Thursday to over 1,500 women and men – including some of the world’s leading experts on the pandemic.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan of China speaks to delegates during the official opening of the first international women's summit on HIV and AIDS, hosted by the YWCA (Young Women Christian Association). Gender equality and the empowerment of women are key to slowing the spread of AIDS, the United Nations agency coordinating the fight against the epidemic said Thursday in Nairobi.

The first-ever international conference on women’s leadership in the battle against HIV/AIDS opened Thursday to over 1,500 women and men – including some of the world’s leading experts on the pandemic.

Church leaders, activists, and U.N. officials have convened in Nairobi, Kenya, for the “International Women’s Summit: Women’s Leadership Making a Difference on HIV and AIDS” conference organized by the Kenyan YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association).

“This conference places women’s leadership in focus. This is extremely important as it is always women who are hardest hit by the epidemic,” said Anne-Marie Helland, Norwegian Church Aid’s special advisor for social and political rights, according to NCA. Norwegian Church Aid is one of the conference’s sponsors.

“Women are infected more easily than men, and they are the ones that carry the burden of caring for the sick,” Helland added. “This is why it’s so important that women are involved in the process to decide the direction in which we shall continue in the fight against HIV and AIDS.”

There are a total 39.5 million people living with HIV including 20 million women and children, according to UNAIDS’s latest report. Of that, 4.3 million were people newly infected with the virus in 2006. Last year, AIDS killed a total of 2.9 million people.

Overall, the July 4-7 summit seeks to highlight the difference women’s leadership is making on HIV/AIDS; build the capacity of individuals and organizations to develop sustainable programs and evidence based solutions; mobilize women around the world to respond to HIV/AIDS and related issues; and develop strategic partnership to broaden the impact of responses.

Conference attendees will address such questions as: if women really are so important then where is the leadership and the money?

In addition, NCA’s Helland – who also sits as a permanent deputy representative on the board for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – will lead a panel debate on religion and HIV, during which participants will discuss how the church can include HIV-positive individuals in their management.

Conference speakers include: Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS; Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of WHO (World Health Organization); and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches.

On Wednesday, a Positive Women’s Forum was held exclusively for women living with HIV/AIDS to open up the summit. The program sought to create a space and agenda to help positive women to network and build strategic partnerships.

The International Women’s Summit takes place under the theme of “Listen, Learn, Lead” and in conjunction with the July 1-11 World YWCA Council.