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¿Free and Equal? Why we need to speak up about inequality at the #HLM2016AIDS

¿Free and Equal? Why we need to speak up about inequality at the #HLM2016AIDS

access_timeJune 03, 2016 04:12 pm

“I am hardly the first to warn that the United Nations bureaucracy is getting in the way of its peacekeeping efforts. But too often, these criticisms come from people who think the United Nations is doomed to fail. I come at it from a different angle: I believe that for the world’s sake we must make the United Nations succeed.”*

Some time ago, I read an article about why the United Nations’ system, as it exists today, is misconceived and has even led to betray its own ideals of improving the democratic life in our societies and guarantee human rights that are already inherent to us since, ahem, we are born human.


We said that on October 24, 71 years ago, didn’t we? That we all are born "free and equal".


Next week, the gigantic halls and rooms of the UN will host again several activists and experts from around the world to the High Level Meeting on HIV, from 8 to 10 June in New York. This meeting and its Political Declaration are expected to set the pace for a coordinated global response to the epidemic, in time to commit Member States to assume agreements during this fast track response to 2030.


Yet today, in the midst of negotiations and statements, we keep repeating in an almost absurd tone the slogan "ending the epidemic". Yet, today, instead of focusing on communities and how we keep facing increasingly unstable socio-political scenarios in our countries, we are re-discussing the "definition" of the groups that are most at risk of HIV (like we don’t know this since forever).


Yet, today, as a colleague puts it, “we are forced now to re-fight the basic struggles of discrimination, which we thought we had won 15 years ago.”


Beyond the criticism on the excessive bureaucracy that still can not find an effective way to engage communities, I want to focus on the deep substantive issues that make all these issues at the UN level sound almost like a broken record, as Žižek says, "first as tragedy, then as farce."

Let’s see...

Ideally, the focus and sole slogan of the discussions should be “fast-track everywhere, leave no one behind", and this means that the categorization of countries, to mention one example, should no longer be taken into account when defining who will access the funds made available for global solidarity and who will not.

We can’t leave behind the most vulnerable communities in these places, our countries.

In 2016, all the accumulated evidence suggests that, if what we want is to build a solid response that really ends HIV everywhere as a public health issue, mainly in our communities, we must invest in accountability, transparency and, of course, in political advocacy. None of the other two things will happen unless we invest in advocacy (governments will not start funding organizations and communities over the night, “just because”) -and we already know that.


It’s clear that HIV vulnerability does not end by looking at a country, its GDP and how this is allegedly distributed. Our organizations require international cooperation and support until, at least, improving our living conditions.


Yes, it's true: some “developed” countries can no longer ask for support to strengthen their health systems, as this should be part of the minimum amount of responsibility they have. But civil society itself still needs global solidarity.


As an example, let's review the case of Peru, as an “upper income” country with, yet, one of the highest rates related to unsafe abortions among adolescent girls. Like many of the countries (if not every single one) in the region, Peru also represents an uncontrolled incidence of HIV among transgender women and gay men under 35 years.


Even Brazil, with one the best responses to HIV, as a country that has historically exported all of their good practices and know-how to other parts of the world, is not being able to control its epidemic (and therefore our epidemic) among young gay men and transgender women.


On the other side, we have some other cases in the region where the responses from the State have been pretty efficient in listening to communities and establish mechanisms for dialogue with them and so on, but when we needed to speak up, the independent civil society disappeared. Because there was no civil society anymore, it was taken over by the government.


Again, examples such as Peru, Brazil and Mexico, as countries with the largest numbers of new cases followed by Venezuela, have in common that they are also the leaders in registered cases of murders and hate-crimes among transgender women and young gay men in Latin America. Documented cases.


So what are we doing? It is impossible to turn a blind eye to what the evidence cries out: homophobia and transphobia have an actual cost.


We need to talk about systemic inequalities, beyond economic ones.


Human development implies the defense (and mainly the warranty) of human and civil rights. And this is not a "contentious" issue, is not something "western", "colonizing", "postmodern" or anything: we are talking about the minimum agreement in which we are moving towards improving our world, the only one we have.

So, we will continue calling "contentious issues" to the issues that criminalize us every day? Are we going to continue leaving entire communities unprotected because of the "sovereignty" of a country, for example?

Does this mean that the global solidarity will just let us die because of homophobia and transphobia? Or will we deny or ignore the fact that our health and well-being have a lot to do with other social drivers, brutal discrimination and historical exclusion? That HIV has nothing to do with inequality, nothing to do with gender violence?


71 years ago we said that "all human beings are born free and equal". Today, we continue criminalizing entire communities that are still suffering from a virus that lives and spreads based on inequality.


Yet, today, we hear stories of people killing people because they love other people and so on.


Again: what are we doing!?


We need to talk about global solidarity -but not to do more of the same, but to develop solid watchdogging plans to ensure that countries take care of their citizens, whoever they are, whoever they love, whatever they do.


We must put this in context: we are facing a global scenario that is feeding extreme ends, on both sides. If the 20th century taught us anything is that every time we have faced these extreme rates of inequality, conflicts have surfaced that have always led to scenarios in which we, minorities, have been brutally persecuted.


We can no longer ignore the cost it will have to not control the epidemic in all these communities, in all these places.

We can no longer ignore the impact of homophobia.

#wearetheepidemic #HLM2016AIDS


*Anthony Banbury, “I love the UN, but is failing” (New York Times)

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