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International Women’s Day – Women and HIV/AIDS

UNIFEM
&
ZONTA INTERNATIONAL

Press Release
International Women’s Day – Women and HIV/AIDS

New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours have a small window of opportunity to stem the rising rates of HIV/AIDS, Family Planning Association Executive Director, Dr Gill Greer, told a Wellington audience celebrating International Women’s Day at Parliament Buildings in Wellington today.

Speaking to over 250 guests at the UNIFEM NZ and Zonta International breakfast to celebrate International Women’s Day, Dr Greer said there was no room for complacency. Fear and stigma needed to be turned into understanding and action.

“New Zealand has until now been very successful in managing HIV/AIDS thanks to the many public health initiatives since the late 1980’s and the work of the AIDS Foundation. However this year we have seen a dramatic rise in HIV/AIDS cases, including an increase in heterosexually transmitted infection, women’s infection and there are now 22 children in New Zealand who were born with HIV,” Dr Greer said.

“The Pacific Island AIDS Foundation tells us there are 9,000 people living in small Pacific countries with HIV AIDS - out of a population of 5 million. This compares with Australia and New Zealand’s 15,000 in a population of 21 million. The inadequate statistics, low levels of testing and monitoring suggest that the real number is probably at lease double and in some countries like Papua New Guinea, perhaps 10 times.”

“Compared with the newly critical areas of China and India the numbers are small, but it is not the number of cases that is the only indicator, it is the percentage of the population affected and the rapidity of growth that is significant, Dr Greer said.

The majority of the infection in the Pacific is heterosexually transmitted - with women the majority of the victims.

“Fighting this crisis is not just about women’s rights to health, but their right to equality and freedom from discrimination. Not only do women face greater risk of HIV infection for biological reasons, being four times more physically vulnerable than their male partners, they are also socially more vulnerable.”

Dr Greer said cultural norms of sexual ignorance and chastity for women all too often blocked women’s and girl’s access to information about the virus.

“Sex is often a taboo subject, but ignorance regrettably is no protection against HIV/AIDS. Around the globe a young person is infected with HIV/AIDS every 14 seconds – two thirds of them are young women.”

Dr Greer urged those who attended the breakfast to become informed about the issues around HIV/AIDS and have the difficult conversations about sexuality, sexual responsibility and respect with those close to them.

Background - International Women’s Day
The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and radical ideologies.
International Women's Day (8 March) is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
International Women's Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men.

The objective of the breakfasts is to promote and recognise International Women’s Day as well as raise funds for local and international service projects being organised by Zonta International and UNIFEM the United Nations Development Fund for Women

Ends

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