The event was organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the governments of Norway and Sweden. More than 200 people took part.
Under the title “Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Empowerment” an expert panel discussed how to work together on issues of policy. They identified objectives of changing restrictive laws on abortion and advancing sexual and reproductive empowerment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The panel also looked at what men and boys stand to gain from greater gender equality.
Hakon Gulbrandsen, State Secretary to the Minister of International Development of Norway, and Swedish HIV/AIDS Ambassador Lennarth Hjeimaker made opening statements introducing their countries' new AIDS policies. State Secretary Gulbrandsen stressed the importance of sexual and reproductive rights, and the need to support pro-choice organisations. He said we need to recognise and respect the complexity and diversity of sexualities and challenge the exclusion of LGBT groups due to their identity.
Ambassador Hjelmaker spoke about integrating HIV programmes with sexual and reproductive health and rights. He emphasised the need to tailor HIV responses according to the scale and nature of an epidemic, and the importance of taking a rights-based approach to all interventions. He said it was essential to focus on young people and key populations in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The Alliance’s Javier Hourcade Bellocq explained how criminalisation and violence fuel the AIDS epidemic by increasing the vulnerability of marginalised populations, such as men who have sex with men. One of the main challenges is to engage men – studies show that very few access HIV-related services, even where they are available.
“Men who have sex with men and transgender communities exist everywhere, not just in Latin America and the Asia Pacific,” he said. “These communities exist in Africa, and we must address their needs.”
Bellocq stressed the need for advocacy and policy work, and for interventions to reduce stigma and discrimination. He also called for more direct access to resources such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria to help community based organisations.
Laura Villa of Ipas talked about the recent legalisation of safe abortion in Mexico City. She described how organisations have worked to ensure access to services since the law was passed.
Dawn Cavanagh of the Coalition of African Lesbians appealed for an end to violence against sexual minorities in Africa, and stressed the need to protect defenders of human rights. Groups representing gay men and lesbians in Africa and elsewhere are often harassed by authorities and shunned by society.
In his closing remarks, Ambassador Hjelmaker spoke of the need to talk about LGBT, sex workers and men who have sex with men. To have an effective response, we must be willing to address complex matters, he said. State Secretary Gulbrandsen underlined the need to protect those who defend human rights, and stressed the essential role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.