Saturday, May 16, 2009

Freedom, Prisons, and Human Rights

I seem to be on a roll with the Prison and Freedom thing, so I will just continue. Roxanna Saberi is not the only political prisoner currently, by far. And thank heavens she has since been released. One has been imprisoned for years now, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for years, and has just had additional (trumped up) charges filed against her. It is she about whom Secretary Clinton speaks in the beginning of this video:

Some prisons are buildings, like the one in which Aung San Suu Kyi resides. Others are emotional, psychological, and most definitely physical, as described by Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's issues, Melanie Verveer, in this testimony before the US Senate:

Hundreds of THOUSANDS of women raped as a war technique. Yes, a human rights issue to be sure. Frankly, that is a massive understatement.

One of the consequences Ambassador Verveer mentioned was the spread of HIV/AIDS as a result of rape. No doubt, this must be stopped, and it begs the question, how is it still going on? But even in this country, something that has received little press, is the following article on women in the US and HIV/AIDS:

President's Budget Flat Funds Services for Women & Families

Women living with HIV throughout the U.S. were disappointed at some details of the President's FY 2010 budget, released late last week. The overall budget calls for a modest increase in funding to fight the growing domestic HIV epidemic, but flat-funds the Ryan White Part D program, the only federal funding stream designated to serve women, children and families living with HIV. The HIV epidemic among women has worsened over the past two and a half decades, with the Centers for Disease control estimating over 300,000 women to be living with HIV in the United States.

"We commend the Admininstration's focus on HIV prevention based on sound science -- but given recent information by the Kaiser Family Foundation that general public awareness of HIV has decreased over the last few years, underinvestment in HIV programs is impractical and sends a dangerous signal to the public," commented Naina Khanna, Coordinator of the U.S. Positive Women's Network, a national membership body of women living with HIV. "And even in these hard economic times, only 5% of Americans believe the U.S. is spending too much on domestic HIV/AIDS. There is broad public support for preventing new infections and keeping people in care."

Ryan White Part D provides funding for services designated to women, children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Data consistently shows that women are less likely than men to stay in care once diagnosed. Approximately 76% of women living with HIV have at least one child under 18 in their homes, and services for women must reflect that reality in order to keep women in consistent care, say advocates.

"Without the services provided by Part D funding, I don't know if I would have been able to overcome the depression, loneliness, fear and stigma of my HIV diagnosis," says Linda Scruggs, an HIV-positive woman living outside the District of Columbia, where one in ten African American women are estimated to be living with HIV. Loren Jones, a Ryan White Part D services recipient and co-chair of the Community Input Task Force in Oakland, CA adds: "These are the only services entirely dedicated to HIV-positive women and men with dependent children. It is a major part of our attempt to provide services including whole family emotional support, legal assistance, and education to those members of the community that are not often highlighted as being impacted by HIV disease."

Organizations receiving Part D funding have been funded at the same level for the past five years, though the number of women they are serving has continued to grow. Women's organizations are fearful of the repercussions this cut will have on services to women. "Level funding is essentially a cut in funding - and is just another sign that women's needs are not being taken seriously," says Maura Riordan, Executive Director of Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease (WORLD) in Oakland, CA.

Liz Brosnan, Executive Director of Christie's Place in San Diego adds: "I am shocked to see that the vast majority of the Ryan White program is slated for increases, while Part D, serving women and children, will not receive any additional funding -- though the need to serve women continues to grow exponentially. These are successful programs that provide clinical and support services for women and youth. We should fund what's working."

The Positive Women's Network calls on members of Congress to increase FY 2010 appropriations for Part D of the Ryan White program. "We will be in Washington, DC next week to discuss this with our legislators," says Pat Kelly, an HIV-positive woman from Orangeburg, South Carolina. Statistics show the epidemic is over 50 percent female in some counties in the Deep South. "We urge HIV-positive women, families and those who work with them to join us in demanding funding levels that correspond to the needs of the epidemic."

The U.S. Positive Women’s Network is a project of WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease) in Oakland, CA. We are a national membership body of women living with HIV and allies. For more information and to join please visit:

Again, the "disappointment" in President Obama, that is, the disappointment in grasping the reality that there is a growing disparity between what he says and what he does. I want to believe Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Verveer. I want to believe that this Administration is really committed to women here and abroad, but when funds are kept level (essentially cut given a growing number of patients and related costs) to women in the US living with HIV/AIDS, I am having a hard time doing so. I don't doubt Secretary Clinton in her desire or Ambassador Verveer in hers, just in Obama's commitment to women in general. His treatment of women thus far has done nothing to convince me he gives a damn, quite the contrary.

And how long do women in this country, and around the world, have to wait for justice, for human rights, just BASIC rights? Secretary Clinton gave an impassioned, brilliant speech years ago, equating Women's Rights to Human Rights. Yet hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in Congo, millions around the world. When, WHEN, will it end?

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