Latest Update

May 17, 2011

Distinguished Resource Persons,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning!

It is my pleasure to welcome you all this morning to this important meeting organized by the SAARC Secretariat with the support of UNDP, UNAIDS, and the Asia Network of Positive People.

Since assuming office in early March, this is the second formal meeting of SAARC that I am privileged to personally address. At the end of March, I was speaking at a SAARC forum that dealt exclusively with South Asian women, women entrepreneurs, to be precise. As a woman myself, it is a pleasant coincidence for me again that the second formal meeting of SAARC that I address in person, has also got to do with South Asian women.

Looking at these two formal events, you can see that women’s issues are indeed high on the SAARC agenda.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

About 30 % of the 5 million people living with HIV in Asia are women. Moreover, HIV infections amongst women are on the rise. According to an estimate of UNAIDS released in 2009, of all the HIV infected people in South Asia, the proportion of women rose from 19 percent in 2000 to a staggering 35 percent in 2008.

These figures tell us that unless we join our hands today to address this unprecedented trend, the number of HIV positive women will continue to grow in our region in the coming years. Indeed, South Asia is particularly vulnerable to such a phenomenon for a number of reasons, such as, poverty; low literacy; gender inequality; high level of cross border mobility; internal and external migration and displacement; trafficking of women and young girls; increased commercial sexual activity; high rates of occurrence of sexually transmitted infections; expansion of the tourism and travel industry; increasing number of drug users; lack of access to full and accurate information and services; and, last, but not the least, widespread social stigma, discrimination and denial. While, of these, the risk factors such as cross border mobility, internal and external migration, internal and external displacement, trafficking of women and young girls, drug trafficking and gender inequality could be addressed through regional cooperation and bilateral arrangements, other factors or issues including the issue of widespread stigma, discrimination and denial are best dealt with by sharing experiences, best practices and lessons learned by one another through meetings as this one. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As in many other situations in their lives, women are disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic, both economically and socially.  The woman bears most of the burdens when her husband is infected with HIV.   The woman takes a back seat in treatment even while both husband and wife are infected in a given family. The woman single-handedly provides constant care and support to her male counterpart and her entire family even in situations where both live with HIV infection. And that’s not the end to it. It is also the lot of women, more than their men, who bear the contempt and derision of their society. The social stigma and discrimination as these, therefore, deny HIV positive women the right to lead a normal life. 

Against the backdrop of such a distressing scenario, I believe a gathering like this one does provide an apt platform to discuss and come out with solutions to help with the plight of HIV positive women. Then again, this forum alone cannot, of course, will help us to address all the problems of HIV positive women but nonetheless it can and must convey a message that we are driven by the hope of achieving Zero social stigma and discrimination, Zero HIV infections, and Zero AIDS-related deaths.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS is a significant initiative to halt and reverse the spread and impact of the deadly disease in the region. One of the primary objectives of the Strategy is to provide people living with the pandemic with access to affordable treatment and care, and also the opportunity to lead a normal life—a life of dignity. In order to achieve that end, the Strategy, among others, calls for concerted action both at the national level and the regional level through partnership between and among Governments, regional and international organizations and civil society organizations.

The task we are at is challenging, and, therefore, calls for joint and sustained efforts from all the stakeholders. Our development partners must, indeed, invest in activities that have a direct bearing on the women infected as well as women at risk. Our governments must put in place comprehensive legal regimes providing for People Living with HIV and AIDS with access to affordable treatment and care, as well as the opportunity to lead a normal life. Civil society groups must strengthen their support services to the target groups, ranging from psychological support to livelihood support.  The women present here and all those they represent must work together as one voice—as an effective agent for a positive change.

This meeting, which brings together representatives of positive women’s networks working on HIV and gender issues, SAARC Member States and development partners, is indeed a welcome step forward.  It will provide an important opportunity to the participants not only to deepen their understanding of the key HIV challenges faced by women and girls in the region, but also to suggest measures to enhance the role that positive women’s networks can and do play by identifying key programmes and policies for implementation at the national and regional level.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

With these brief remarks, I would like to once again extend a warm welcome to all of you to this very important meeting.  The presence of distinguished representatives from Member States, Civil Society Groups, Networks of Positive People, and the development partners, bears testimony to their collective will to alleviate the hardships faced by HIV positive women in our region.

The company of our development partners in this gathering is testimony to the fact that we are not alone on our quest of addressing the plight of positive women in South Asia. This is, indeed, huge comfort. On this note, I would like to thank UNDP, UNAIDS and the Asia Network of Positive People for teaming up with SAARC in organizing this important event.   With the rich experience and expertise that the resource persons bring to this meeting, I am confident that it will be able to come up with useful and viable recommendations.

My two colleagues, Mr. Ibrahim Zuhuree, Director at the SAARC Secretariat and Dr. Kashi Kant Jha, Director at the SAARC Tuberculosis & HIV/AIDS Centre will be happy to assist with the deliberations of this meeting and to provide any clarifications thereon.

I wish this meeting a grand success.

I thank you.