2006 UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS
May 28th - June 3rd 2006, New York
Following the experiences of ESCWA, Beijing +10, the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies took a decision to continue to actively partake in UN processes, particularly pertaining to sexual, reproductive and bodily rights. The two main reasons for this were to challenge the conservative approach of most Muslim states, now strengthened by the alliance with other conservative forces like the USA and the Vatican in UN negotiations, and to render visible the efforts of activists in the region advocating for progressive social change in the domain of SRHR on the international arena.
In 2005, the coalition decided to participate in the UNGASS meeting and began preparations. WWHR-New Ways coordinated the efforts, as we were already part of the international COMPACT group initiated and coordinated by IWHC. The preparations included identifying network members who were interested in being on the delegation; encouraging people to try to be on government delegations, background work on country positions and HIV/AIDS, logistical preparations, as well as lobbying on the national level. The delegation of the Coalition included 14 network representatives from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Tunisia, and Turkey. Our delegates from Lebanon, Indonesia, and Malaysia were also on government delegations.
Networking prior UNGASS
On May 28th and 29th, we held network meetings to strategize for UNGASS, participated in the international civil society preparation meeting, and visited country missions. Prior to the beginning of the meeting, a member of our delegation from WWHR-New Ways spoke at the press briefing with UN Correspondents Association, reiterating the our priorities as established in the COMPACT statement, and calling on governments to support our demands to prioritize women’s rights and safeguard sexual and reproductive rights in the review. (Click here for the COMPACT statement). Another member of WWHR-New Ways delivered a speech at the GWCA event. Two members of our delegation, from Egypt and Turkey, delivered speeches at the high-level roundtables during the meeting, calling on governments, in particular from the region, to take progressive stands on the declaration vis à vis issues like rights of women and girls, sexuality, vulnerable groups, targets. In addition to advocacy and lobbying efforts during negotiations at the meeting, our delegation organized two panels as side events. The panels were entitled Sexuality and HIV/AIDS in South/Southeast Asia and Sexuality Education in Muslim Majority Countries and the Fight against HIV/AIDS.
Blocked by the epidemic of conservatism
As expected from other recent UN meetings like Beijing +10, the negotiations were very strenuous. A particularly distressing development was that all Muslim countries united under OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) and negotiated as a block, even though OIC in fact is an economic entity and has no right to speak on behalf of all Muslim countries on issues such as HIV/AIDS or women. They opposed all demands regarding the inclusion of comprehensive sexuality education, language on vulnerable groups - MSM, sex workers and IDU; or language on empowerment of girls in the outcome document. Egypt was the leader behind the doors and Syria, Yemen and Iraq were very vocal in the negotiations, but it was horrifying to witness the silence and complacency of all other Muslim countries who remained silent - even if they did not agree with all of this - with the excuse that "they cannot afford to anger OIC given the present political situation" - meaning the US military interventions and other conflicts between the "West" and the "Muslim" world. Although we had members on government delegations, they were mostly prevented from participating in the negotiations, another new arising obstacle. In face of these developments, our delegation decided to issue a statement on behalf of the coalition, calling on our governments to change their positions and take necessary measures against the epidemic. Click here to read the Coalition Statement.
Conservative voice of the South, Reluctant silence of the North
The High Level Meeting demonstrated yet again how challenging it was to move forward on issues of SRHR at the UN level given the prevalent conservative political atmosphere. For our delegation, all countries uniting under the umbrella of OIC constituted a further obstacle, obliterating the progressive voices from the regions. On the other hand, the split of the OAU contributed to having no concrete language on targets in the declaration, while Northern countries were reluctant to make any commitments on funding and remained silent to US opposition to language on targets, commitments etc.
Falling short of the targets
The outcome document, which was a political declaration, was adopted at the end of 3 days of intense negotiations. Our delegation, together with international civil society, lobbied extensively for the inclusion of targets, vulnerable groups, rights of women and girls, sexuality education in the outcome document. Finally, the political declaration included some positive provisions for youth, sexual health and women, yet fell short of moving forward by setting clear targets to fight the epidemic, or adopting a rights based approach against the spread of HIV/AIDS. It did not define vulnerable groups or include any provisions on sexuality education. Click here to read the Outcome document/Political Declaration.