Fight­ing HIV DR NI NI TUN

Even Women at Low Risk for HIV Should Know Their Sta­tus.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Health - Dr Ni Ni Tun, Med­i­cal Di­rec­tor, Med­i­cal Ac­tion Myan­mar, Yan­gon

MA HLA MYAT (not her real name) dis­cov­ered she was HIV pos­i­tive af­ter her hus­band died of AIDS. “Why do I have HIV? I did noth­ing wrong. I was good.” Un­for­tu­nately, ev­ery year, many women in Myan­mar are shocked to find out they are in­fected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

This is not only hap­pen­ing in Myan­mar.the Joint United Na­tions Pro­gramme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) re­ports that an es­ti­mated 50 mil­lion women in Asia are at risk of be­com­ing in­fected with HIV from their in­ti­mate part­ners. Data from sev­eral Asian coun­tries show that many women are either mar­ried or in long-term re­la­tion­ships with men who en­gage in high-risk sex­ual be­hav­iours. Men who buy sex con­sti­tute the largest HIV in­fected pop­u­la­tion group – and most of them are either mar­ried or will get mar­ried, ac­cord­ing to UNAIDS. This be­hav­iour of hus­bands or part­ners en­dan­gers a very large num­ber of women, of­ten per­ceived as at ‘low-risk’.

Know your sta­tus The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day, held on De­cem­ber 1, was “Know your sta­tus”. Even if you do not think you are at risk, it is im­por­tant to take an HIV test to find out your sta­tus. HIV test­ing is es­sen­tial to re­ceive quick treat­ment so that women who are in­fected can still lead healthy and pro­duc­tive lives. Un­for­tu­nately, there are still many bar­ri­ers to HIV test­ing in Myan­mar. Stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion keeps many women from tak­ing an HIV test. Ac­cess to con­fi­den­tial HIV test­ing is still an is­sue of con­cern. Un­for­tu­nately, many women, like Hla Myat, still only get tested af­ter con­tract­ing the virus and show­ing signs of AIDS.

We know that women who ex­pe­ri­ence phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse at the hands of their hus­bands are ap­prox­i­mately four times more likely to be­come in­fected with HIV than mar­ried women who were not abused. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent na­tional sur­vey, in Myan­mar, at least one out of ten women hav­ing a hus­band or reg­u­lar part­ner has ex­pe­ri­enced per­sonal vi­o­lence from this per­son in the past 12 months.

“A women who is abused by her hus­band is truly placed in a sit­u­a­tion of ‘dou­ble jeop­ardy’ re­gard­ing HIV in­fec­tion in that his sex­ual be­hav­iour out­side of the mar­riage makes it more likely he is in­fected with the virus, and his abu­sive be­hav­iour in­side the mar­riage leaves her with lit­tle con­trol over sex or sex­ual pro­tec­tion,” said the lead au­thor of a study on vi­o­lence against in­dian women.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gen­der-based Vi­o­lence Cam­paign is cur­rently on­go­ing, from Novem­ber 25 to De­cem­ber 10. This is a time when we all need to take ac­tion to end vi­o­lence against women and girls. This is a time when all women should be tested for HIV and know their sta­tus.

To this end, you can do HIV test­ing at your near­est gov­ern­ment health cen­tre or in INGO and NGO clin­ics. Let’s do the test­ing NOW! ..............................................................

AS the new chief of a Tokyo mu­seum fo­cus­ing on wartime sex­ual vi­o­lence against women, Mina Watan­abe faces a great chal­lenge: how to pre­serve and pass on the mem­o­ries of those who were forced into sex­ual servi­tude as “com­fort women” un­der the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese mil­i­tary.

“The vic­timised women are ag­ing or have al­ready passed away with­out re­ceiv­ing am­ple jus­tice, while those who sex­u­ally ex­ploited them have al­ready died with­out be­ing pun­ished,” Watan­abe of the Women’s Ac­tive Mu­seum on War and Peace, or WAM, said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with Ky­odo News.

“What we can do now is to never for­get what hap­pened to the women dur­ing wartime so the atroc­i­ties will never be re­peated,” she said, re­fer­ring to the mu­seum’s long­stand­ing plan to cre­ate an archive on the is­sues in­volv­ing com­fort women.

“We need to se­cure their tes­ti­monies and doc­u­ments so Ja­panese cit­i­zens will come to terms with the past even un­der a re­vi­sion­ist regime.”

It is the mu­seum’s ur­gent as­sign­ment to col­lect com­fort women-re­lated doc­u­ments within the next few years be­fore they are scat­tered and lost, she added. “The archive pro­ject will be the pil­lar of our ac­tiv­i­ties in the long run.”

Hav­ing an in­ter­est in women’s is­sues and hu­man rights since her school­days, Watan­abe worked to es­tab­lish WAM in Au­gust 2005, the 60th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, as Ja­pan’s only mu­seum on the is­sue of com­fort women.

The launch fol­lowed a sim­u­lated trial, known as the Women’s In­ter­na­tional War Crimes Tri­bunal, in De­cem­ber 2000 in Tokyo.

The tri­bunal was or­gan­ised by women’s rights ac­tivists and le­gal ex­perts from around the world and con­cluded that the com­fort­women sys­tem con­sti­tuted a crime against hu­man­ity and urged the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to take le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Af­ter serv­ing as sec­re­tary gen­eral of WAM, man­ag­ing its events such as a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions of de­tailed com­fort women doc­u­ments and sym­po­siums, and edit­ing sev­eral pub­li­ca­tions on the is­sue, Watan­abe was pro­moted to be its fourth chief ear­lier this year.

She has con­tin­ued trav­el­ing abroad fre­quently ever since as­sum­ing the post in a bid to draw more at­ten­tion from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to the com­fort women is­sue, and to co­or­di­nate joint ac­tions with over­seas hu­man rights groups.

In Geneva, she vis­ited the U.N. pan­els on hu­man rights to seek fur­ther recog­ni­tion on the com­fort women is­sue, and she met with vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence in Ar­gentina.

The com­fort women is­sue came to light when Kim Hak Sun be­came the first to come for­ward in Seoul in 1991, de­mand­ing that Ja­pan take re­spon­si­bil­ity for its wartime atroc­i­ties.

Her move en­cour­aged many other vic­tims not only in South Korea but also in China, the Philip­pines and other coun­tries to join her strug­gle for seek­ing apolo­gies and com­pen­sa­tion from the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment, while restor­ing their dig­nity.

“But it is quite re­gret­table that they couldn’t fully make it,” Watan­abe said, in­di­cat­ing that the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the is­sue has not been suf­fi­cient to sat­isfy the vic­tims.

Ja­pan con­cluded a deal with South Korea in 2015 to “fi­nally and ir­re­versibly” set­tle the com­fort women is­sue, fea­tur­ing a foun­da­tion, which was put in charge of hand­ing out cash pay­ments to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies from a 1 bil­lion yen ($8.8 mil­lion) fund pro­vided by Ja­pan.

But Seoul de­cided ear­lier this month to dis­solve it, height­en­ing bi­lat­eral ten­sions. The 2015 agree­ment, struck un­der the pre­vi­ous South Korean ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Park Geun Hye, is un­pop­u­lar with the pub­lic and seen as an in­ad­e­quate so­lu­tion by the cur­rent gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Moon Jae In.

“Say­ing it does not in­tend to scrap or rene­go­ti­ate the agree­ment, South Korea has ap­par­ently left the is­sue in Ja­pan’s hands, but Ja­pan has been at a loss about how to deal with it as it has re­mained re­luc­tant to sin­cerely face its wartime re­spon­si­bil­ity and learn lessons from his­tory,” Watan­abe said.

“Now, we, the Ja­panese cit­i­zens, are re­quired to per­suade the gov­ern­ment to ful­fill its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for set­tling the past ques­tions.”

In pur­su­ing ef­forts to keep the mem­o­ries of com­fort women alive, it was en­cour­ag­ing news for Watan­abe that De­nis Muk­wege, a Con­golese gy­ne­col­o­gist, and Na­dia Mu­rad, a Yazidi hu­man rights ac­tivist from Iraq, were awarded this year’s No­bel Peace Prize for their “ef­forts to end the use of sex­ual vi­o­lence as a weapon of war and armed con­flict.”

“Par­tic­u­larly, Mr. Muk­wege vis­ited our mu­seum once, and we dis­cussed that a state should be held ac­count­able in the face of vi­o­lence against women in armed con­flicts,” said Watan­abe. “I ex­pect him to con­tinue keep­ing in mind the is­sue of sex­ual slav­ery in­volv­ing com­fort women, and I also hope his ini­tia­tive will be widely sup­ported by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

In ad­di­tion to the ar­chives pro­ject, WAM has worked to have thou­sands of com­fort women-re­lated doc­u­ments listed in UNESCO’S Mem­ory of the World Reg­is­ter, as part of an in­ter­na­tional al­liance of non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment has ap­par­ently shown a sense of dis­plea­sure against the pro­posed UNESCO registry, lodg­ing a protest over South Korea’s sup­port for the listing on the grounds that such a registry would go against the 2015 agree­ment.

While the ap­pli­ca­tion is pend­ing and will be de­cided on at some point in the fu­ture, Watan­abe said the NGOS will con­tinue to seek the registry through di­a­logue with rel­e­vant par­ties.

Rikkyo Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Akane Onozawa, an ex­pert in women’s his­tory, is now study­ing the di­ary of a for­mer Ja­panese com­fort woman, which is pre­served at WAM, for re­search on how her bit­ter wartime ex­pe­ri­ences af­fected her post­war life.

Onozawa has urged her stu­dents to visit the mu­seum if they are in­ter­ested in the com­fort women is­sue. WAM draws around 3,000 visitors an­nu­ally.

“The phrase ‘sex­ual slav­ery’ has grad­u­ally been erased from peo­ple’s mem­ory, and many stu­dents are not aware that the vic­tims were ‘forced’ to serve the Ja­panese mil­i­tary,” she said.

“Un­der such cir­cum­stances, I ex­pect WAM to re­main as a place, which en­ables peo­ple to learn lessons from what ac­tu­ally hap­pened, and hands down the his­tory of com­fort women in line with the find­ings of the 2000 tri­bunal that the sex­ual slav­ery is a crime against hu­man­ity.”

A staff mem­ber at the Women’s Ac­tive Mu­seum on War and Peace in Tokyo checks ma­te­ri­als at its lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cus­ing on Ja­panese “com­fort women” on Au­gust 23, 2017.

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