The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is proving to be both an exciting and challenging experience. The excitement can be seen in the frenzy of NGO’s, striving for a chance to advocate their ideas, or in the never-ending stream of side events, which have kept the World Youth Alliance advocacy team and delegates very engaged as we try to be all places at once. The challenge has been in responding to the ideas we are faced with at many of these events — ideas based on a very limited view of the human person.
One example of this challenge was during a meeting hosted by the permanent mission of the Netherlands to the UN. The event was titled “Beyond Denial and Discomfort: Securing the rights and health of women and youth, including those who live with HIV.” A group of panelists promoted the idea that sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. Branching from this, they discussed that comprehensive care for HIV positive people must include ensuring that these rights are guaranteed. In other words, in place of societal discomfort in recognizing the “sexuality and sexual and reproductive rights of HIV positive women,” we need to recognize that they have “the right to have sex,” and must be provided with the means to exercise this right.
While the panelists had many valid points, such as the fact that HIV positive people should not be discriminated against, their presentation seemed rather one-sided. As I sat listening, many questions started popping into my mind. I was slightly confused at their exclusive dependence on condoms and total disregard of the ideas of delaying sex or not having multiple, concurrent sexual partners to protect young people and stop the spread of HIV. While I considered raising some of these issues, I soon saw that discussing delaying sex or limiting partners was not an option. One gentleman in the crowd raised his hand and, amidst much eye-rolling and scoffing from other crowd members, asked how they could promote condoms as “safe sex” when they don’t even stop all STD’s? He continued, asking the panelists why they excluded information on the only truly “safe sex,” namely abstinence. While his logical and relevant statements were met with applause by several people, the panelists were clearly appalled—apparently the “a” word, i.e. abstinence, isn’t politically correct. With the exception of one comment from the moderator, who stated that she thought the idea of abstinence education was extremely old-fashioned, the panelists ignored the gentleman’s comments and focused on their agenda of promoting sexual and reproductive rights. Instead of telling young people that they can remain 100% free from HIV and all other STD’s by postponing sex, the panelists, fixated on the “right to have sex,” preferred to place the future health of teenagers, HIV positive women and their sexual partners in the care of condoms. Permanent, committed relationships were not a part of the conversation.
While I have been exposed to a lot at the UN and during the CSW, this idea that abstinence is not politically correct and cannot even be brought to the table is completely foreign to me. The panelists and many audience members discussed sex as recreation, such as going out to dinner or playing tennis, and that of course we should all be able to have total freedom in our choices. Except I think this perspective has little to do with reality. Sex is not a recreational activity, but an act of potentially life-changing and life-damaging physical and emotional intimacy, particularly in the context of those infected with HIV. And with something that important, what excuse is there for not presenting the whole picture to young people? Enjoying “sexual rights” and being given the equipment to do so, in case there is something your partner doesn’t know or isn’t telling you, is a poor substitute for what sex can and should be. I am surely grateful that the people at this presentation had nothing to do with my upbringing. And I imagine that many of the young people they are impacting with their “sexual education” will one day feel slightly cheated when they realize that there was actually another way to do things—a way that didn’t involve broken hearts, STD’s, HIV and unplanned pregnancies.
Kelly Kirby – North America