#TheUNAIDSWeNeed: Special session on response to harassment and abuse of power at UNAIDS Secretariat
AIDS Action Europe participated at the Special Session of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), the governing body of UNAIDS, which usually meets twice a year to overlook the work of the UN Joint Programme on AIDS.The special session of the UNAIDS PCB was called together to follow up on the situation of sexual harassment and abuse of power within the UNAIDS Secretariat. Two agenda points were set for this one-day Special Session meeting:
- Update on prevention of and response to harassment, including sexual harassment; bullying and abuse of power at UNAIDS Secretariat
- Selection Process of the next Executive Director of UNAIDS
Please read below the intervention made by our colleague, Ferenc Bagyinszky, to the first agenda point. You can read the intervention made by AIDS Action Europe to the second agenda point here.
Thank you, Chair. I am speaking on behalf of AIDS Action Europe.
In December, during the 43rd PCB, when the representatives of the Independent Expert Panel presented their serious findings, findings that were confirmed by previous surveys of the Staff Association, we were not taken by surprise.
Both the report and the surveys have brought to surface examples of harassment and abuse of power, and a culture that allowed these to continue and we, people living with and affected by HIV are facing these issues in our everyday existence.
UNAIDS has been shaken by its establishment in the last year. It has failed in addressing the issues of gender based violence, harassment and abuse at home and the world started asking how they can lead the global response where the very same issues are fuelling the epidemic.
The consequent recommendations of the IEP report were straight forward and clear, there needs to be a fundamental change at all levels of UNAIDS if we want to make sure that each and every staff member at all levels finds a safe workplace where they can be who they are and won´t be harassed, ridiculed or bullied due to their health condition, sexual orientation or gender identity. Or in case these still happen, they can feel safe to report them and can trust in a robust system of remedies.
Also, neither the reactions from the floor nor the substantial delays and the attempt to hold back the report took us by surprise. During the 35 years of the HIV epidemic, science, both medical and social, have developed. They gave us all the tools necessary to end AIDS by 2030. Still, using these tools, implementing evidence based programmes are delayed or denied all over the world. Gender and social inequalities, criminalization of key populations and discriminative or punitive policies are major barriers to accessing prevention, including sex education, treatment and care programmes for women, young girls and boys, people who use drugs, people in prisons and other closed settings, gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people of trans experience and people on the move.
Development in science left development in our societies standing. The AIDS response is leaving people behind. We know that harm reduction saves lives, it is still not provided to people who use drugs in many countries. We know how HIV can be transmitted and how it cannot be transmitted, still countries broadly apply HIV-specific or general criminal laws to cases of HIV-transmission, exposure and non-disclosure or keep up their travel restictions. And we could carry on all day, the list is way too long.
Yes, there have been improvements, we can celebrate and learn from those good practices from all over the world. However, there have been also serious backlashes and we all know one basic character of HIV: it nourishes on discrimination, stigma, legal and social injustice.
However, we also believe that the last year also presented an opportunity for UNAIDS to reform itself and stand again on the forefront of the global response and show by example how we must end this epidemic.
Therefore we call on this Board to do everything in your mandate to make sure that we have a UNAIDS that leads by example and serves the people living with and affected by HIV.