HRAPF joins the rest of the world and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) in commemorating the Zero Discrimination Day. On this day, we recognise the critical role of gender equality in addressing the HIV epidemic, and redouble efforts to advocate for a change in laws and policies that unfairly discriminate against women and girls. Gender disparity has traditionally put women in a position of weakness as opposed to the men, and this even worse for vulnerable and marginalized women such as the sexual and gender minorities, sex workers, women who use and inject drugs, among others, whose systemic and systematic marginalisation continues to deny them access to the most basic human rights. The restrictive legal and policy environment that criminalises and penalises lesbian, bisexual and queer women, sex workers, women who use drugs, transgender women and gender non-conforming persons has exposed them to double stigma and discrimination, which increases their vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.
The legal environment has fueled the systematic discrimination in health service delivery which has routinely discouraged health seeking behavior from the marginalized women, and the policy framework, which is largely silent about the health needs of marginalised women, has also played a part in further denying marginalised women access to specialised HIV prevention, treatment and care services and commodities. This stigma against the women that have been deemed “undesirable”, “socially unacceptable” or “immoral” by operation of law, culture or society norms continues to create a class of “social misfits”, who have in effect been denied access to the most basic health services. As long as such attitudes continue to influence health service delivery (and legislation, such as the creation of “offences against morality”), there can be no hope of achieving the ambitious 20-20-20 targets, nor of eliminating HIV as a public health threat by 2030.
HRAPF continues to work with various partners to ensure female sex workers, women who use and inject drugs and lesbian, bisexual and queer women as well as transgender and gender non-conforming women have equal access to health services without discrimination through sensitisation of health workers on the marginalisation, raising awareness among the marginalised women of their rights to access health services as well as the legal environment on access to health generally and providing free legal aid services to marginalised women who suffer discrimination in the health service sector. HRAPF has also continued to be a strong advocate for the rights of women to be treated equally and with dignity through empowering them to know and demand for their rights to enjoy the full range of their sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as advocating for repeal of discriminatory policies and laws that further hinder key populations from accessing health services.
As a nation, we all have the civic responsibility to create safe spaces for persons living with HIV, including sex workers, lesbians, bisexual and queer women, transgender women and other vulnerable women. We ought to commend HIV prevention messages in work places contribute to access to health facilities for key populations living with HIV/AIDS. HRAPF therefore calls upon all persons, civil society actors, relevant government ministries, departments and agencies, development partners and all stakeholders to work towards building an environment that respects the rights and dignity of all women, and affords them unrestricted access to the health service system.
Catch the whole conversation: https://youtu.be/tUUv_OMg9Vg