Fighting HIV DR NI NI TUN
Even Women at Low Risk for HIV Should Know Their Status.
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.