“See to understand”: Human rights, zero discrimination and improved AIDS response
03 May 2012
In Guatemala, wearing a pair of red glasses has transcended from being a fashion statement to a symbol against stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV. UNAIDS, in partnership with the National Red Cross, launched “See to understand”, a campaign that challenges people to look at the world through red glasses for a new perspective on what it can mean to live with HIV.
Millions of people still do not know what HIV is, how it is transmitted or how to prevent it. Furthermore, a range of social prejudices result in people living with HIV being frequently subject to discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. UNAIDS Guatemala and the Guatemalan Red Cross felt it was necessary to speak about HIV in order to stop taboos and prejudices.
The new initiative aims to raise awareness about HIV, eliminate stigma and discrimination and contribute to achieving the UNAIDS vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths in Guatemala.
Ver para entender (See to understand) promotes the use of red glasses to make visible the commitment to counter stigma and discrimination related to HIV. According to the campaign, wearing the glasses means prioritizing health over social and cultural norms and supporting people living with and affected by HIV. "‘To see’ means to challenge fear, ignorance, silence and myths that contribute to fuel the stigma and discrimination that jeopardize the progress made in the response to AIDS,” said Enrique Zelaya, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Guatemala and Mexico.
Participants can support the campaign by taking a picture of themselves wearing a pair of red glasses and encourage others to do the same. So far more than 800 people have joined this initiative including national authorities and people living with HIV. Among them, Luz Lainfiesta Minister of Social Development, Claudia Samayoa Director of the National STD, HIV and AIDS Program and Otoniel Ramirez REDCA + Regional Secretary.
‘To see’ means to challenge fear, ignorance, silence and myths that contribute to fuel the stigma and discrimination that jeopardize the progress made in the response to AIDS
Enrique Zelaya, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Guatemala and Mexico
“HIV affects us all and the response requires a comprehensive approach,” said Minister Lainfiesta. “From the Ministry of Social Development we will work to reach the goal of zero discrimination towards people living with HIV.”
The powerful message of the campaign has already expanded beyond Guatemala. During the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council held in Geneva February 2012, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay put on the red glasses and urged countries to protect human rights and work towards the elimination of the stigma and discrimination affecting people living with HIV.
The campaign will undertake additional activities to raise awareness about HIV-related stigma and discrimination including the broadcast of radio messages and the organization of social mobilization activities such as discussion forums, surveys and community arts competitions on HIV.
Prevailing stigma and discrimination
An estimated 65 000 people are living with HIV in the Guatemala. There are more than 20 people becoming newly infected every day amounting around 7 500 new HIV infections each year. The HIV epidemic in the country remains concentrated among key populations at higher risk such as sex workers and their clients and men who have sex with men. Discrimination against these affected populations is also very high in the country making it more difficult for them to access HIV services.
According to the first national human rights report, between 2009 – 2010 there were 313 complaints to the national attorney and civil society organizations of which 46% related to violations of the right to health and 13% to the right to life and integrity. Such violations ranged from shortages of antiretroviral medicines to lack of adequate and friendly health facilities and personnel.
The transgender organization OTRANS stressed in the report that transgender people had limited access to employment because of stigma and discrimination. OTRANS also reported cases of physical aggressions, disappearances and deaths because of gender identity. According to the organization, 13 deaths and 3 disappearances were reported from 2007 to 2011.
"Since the beginning of the epidemic, stigma and discrimination have been identified as the main obstacle to an effective HIV response,” said Cesar Núñez, UNAIDS Regional Director for Latin America. “Discrimination related to HIV is itself a violation of human rights, and, in turn, implies the violation of other rights, including the right to health, education, dignity and equality before the law," he added.