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Women demand political commitment to fight HIV/AIDS

Jun 30, 2009

At a conclave held before the Lok Sabha elections in India, HIV positive women and activists urged for more political will and commitment from leaders of the country. Raising the demand for land, subsidised rations and pension funds, the victims sought more laws to ameliorate their conditions.

Bhubaneswar: Over 300 HIV positive women from across Orissa recently met political leaders in Bhubaneswar, pressing them to bring on the HIV/AIDS law in parliament and the state’s legislative assembly. Women leaders also urged for land, pension funds and subsidised ration for people living with HIV/AIDS in the state.

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The two-day conclave was organised ahead of the Lok Sabha elections by ActionAid-supported network Shraddha and Orissa AIDS Solidarity Forum. Shraddha is known as the 'Network of Positive Thinking Women'.

Mamata Mallick, a 28-year-old HIV positive woman of Goudabadi village in Puri district, hopes that women living with HIV/ AIDS are no longer forced to suffer in silence.

"We are fighting for laws to ensure a better and secure life for HIV positive persons and their families. I hope we would be successful in our mission," she says exuding confidence.

Political will and commitment

Political leaders including Prasanna Patasani and Narendra Swain of Biju Janata Dal, Archana Naik of the Bhartiya Janata Party and Prasanna Panda of the Communist Party of India took part in a panel discussion on the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"I am glad I came here. Because I came here, I could get a glimpse into the kind of torture HIV positive women and children are subjected to in our societies. It is high time, we political parties paid greater attention to issues faced by people living with HIV and AIDS," says Naik.

Not all political leaders were open-minded about considering the demands of the campaigners.

"I am not convinced about some of the demands. This conclave, as it does focus mainly on women living with HIV, should have done better not to have included the issues faced by MSM, sex workers," says Abani Baral, veteran CPI leader.

"It is ironical. Everyone finds it fashionable to talk about HIV and AIDS. We had gone through the manifestoes of all political parties before the elections, but none has any mention of us," says Namita Nanda of Shraddha.

Niraj Mishra of Orissa AIDS Solidarity Forum said HIV/AIDS should be made a political issue to attain better living conditions for those affected by the virus.

"Political will and commitment are crucial for fighting this virus," he points out.

Women discussed the importance of raising awareness about the virus and timely treatment of infected persons at the conclave.

'Keep your morale high'

Also, campaigners avidly screened and watched films which had renowned actors and actresses, and eminent social workers advising people living with HIV to not get bogged down and keep their morale high.

"We want women and men who have not been infected to take precautionary steps to keep the virus at bay"

A five-minute awareness song 'Haath se Haath Mila (Join hands)' featuring a host of Bollywood stars including John Abraham, Shilpa Shetty, Sunil Shetty, Fardeen Khan, Nasiruddin Shah, Tabu, Bipasha Basu, Raveena Tandon and Lara Dutta enthused the women with the value of collective strength.

The media including several news channels took an active interest in the conclave.

HIV positive women did not hesitate to recount their stories of struggle before the media.

"We share our stories so that other people can be made aware of the stigma we go through daily.

"We also want women and men who have not been infected to take precautionary steps to keep the virus at bay," adds Namita Nanda.

Source : Action Aid
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