Graça Machel has called for an end to impunity for violations of the rights of women living with HIV, such as forced sterilisation. The former first lady of Mozambique and South Africa was chairing a debate at the International AIDS Conference in Durban last week.
She said the international community must develop a new sense of urgency to support women living with HIV, increase funding and promote human rights to stop violations of women's rights and end the HIV epidemic.
"I call upon the world leaders to bring HIV closer to their hearts and see the suffering of women living with HIV who are being sterilised forcefully because of their HIV status. We are the majority population of the world and without putting us closer to your heart HIV still remains a challenge," she said.
Machel also said AIDS contributes to political and social economic instability by leaving millions of women at risk of dying and causing their children suffering.
Maurine Murenga, who has openly been living with HIV since the early 2000s, called for international human rights bodies to intervene and fight for Ugandan women who were coerced into being sterilised because they are HIV positive.
Murenga, who is also the Global Fund coordinator for the International Community of Women Living with HIV, said women were sterilised in hospital for being HIV positive without their consent, which she described as a human rights violation of the highest order.
"Being HIV positive does not give anyone the right to tamper with my womb and fertility. We demand for action and severe punishment to those that have added more suffering to women living with HIV by adding on them the burden of barrenness," she said.
A 2013 report by the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda found that at least 11 per cent of women living with HIV were coerced into being sterilised by a healthcare worker. Another report, done in 2015, by the International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa revealed that women were still being forced into being sterilised in government health facilities in Uganda.
Vulnerability and discrimination
During the debate, experts also called for a greater focus on HIV prevention in under-served, marginalised populations in developed and developing countries. According to professor Steffanie Strathdee, from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, these should include injecting drug users, men having sex with men and sex workers.
"I was sexually abused when I was an adolescent. I was vulnerable and I understand what that means when it comes to HIV," she said.
Dr Elizabeth Anne Bukusi, deputy director at the Kenyan Medical Research Institute, said it is high time people start to look at HIV as a gender issue and develop programmes to address it in a gender manner.
"We are not winning HIV prevention in Africa because we have left the mothers behind, based on gender discrimination," she added.