Magazine article UN Chronicle

Breaking the Silence. (Conference Room Paper)

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Breaking the Silence. (Conference Room Paper)

Article excerpt

I began compiling and editing materials on women and HIV/AIDS in early 2001 for a special issue of CAFRA News, the biannual magazine of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), where I worked as Information Officer. I wanted it to be an explicative anthology of the epidemic in the region (which is second in magnitude to that of sub-Saharan Africa) and its particular impact on women and girls. So I was very excited to be asked to represent CAFRA at the civil society sessions parallel to the second informal consultation preparatory to the United Nations General Assembly special session held in May 2001.

CAFRA was one of about twenty international groups supported by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to attend the meetings, which aimed to: analyze and comment on the revised draft Declaration of Commitment; prepare briefs for a dialogue session with Member States; influence government delegations on content and process; and review the next steps towards the special session. I started following the "Break-the-Silence" e-mail discussion, and read any key documents I could find. It was my first experience of a United Nations world conference and, although I had some knowledge of other conferences (the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, for example), nothing I read really prepared me for the experience to follow.

International civil society participants attended three briefings over a twelve-hour period. The group expanded with each briefing, so that by the first day of the consultation many of us had heard the same information four times. We also arrived to the disappointing news that the dialogue session with Member States had been put forward at the last minute. Not only did we have little time to prepare, but the timing was inopportune, as many delegates were expected to be attending receptions or meetings then. With a bigger group on, we identified issues that we wanted to highlight in the Declaration of Commitment and classified them for further discussion in small groups as follows:

* Strengthening the global focus of the Declaration;

* Framing the overall response to HIV/AIDS within a human rights-based approach;

* Retaining language naming vulnerable groups;

* Strengthening the language on gender;

* Targets, resources and follow-up; and

* Full meaningful participation of civil society and of people living with HIV/AIDS.

It was quite challenging trying to refine the ideas and priorities of many different interest groups from around the world and condense them into three to four key points to provoke dialogue, but we managed. And just one hour before the dialogue session, we elected five speakers to present our case:

Our representatives were O. C. Lin, Hong Kong AIDS Foundation; Edgar Carrasco, Latin America and Caribbean Council of AIDS Services Organizations; Dr. Jacqueline Bataringaya; Julien Hussey, Global Business Council; and Yolanda Simon, Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. Although warned beforehand, we were disheartened by the poor turnout. The audience comprised mainly non-governmental organization (NGO) delegates, civil society participants and about twenty Member States, most of whom were known to be sympathetic to civil society participation in such a process. The promise of an additional dialogue session on Wednesday afternoon was little consolation because, again, the timing was bad: lunchtime!

The next two days were guided by the realization that the most effective way to influence proceedings was to get sympathetic Member States to integrate our concerns in their arguments during negotiations by preparing specific suggestions for amendments to the Declaration. I was petrified to be elected to speak at the second dialogue session, but mustered up enough composure to prepare a speech on "Key Elements in the Declaration", with the help of three other colleagues: Michaela Figueira, AIDS Law Unit, Namibia; Elizabeth Franklin, United States National Council of Churches; and javier Bellocq, Latin American Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Argentina. …

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