The Underlying Socioeconomic Factors
that Prevent Women from Protecting Themselves
and Their Families
September 5, 1995 — World Health Organization’s Women’s Health Day Panel on “Women and Aids,” Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China
I am honored to join all of you tonight, to be in Beijing, and to represent the United States as a co-chair of the U.S. delegation at this important conference on women.
I come here tonight to discuss our mutual interest in women’s health. We do not share common languages or cultures or religions. But, together we are reaching across continents to join hands to improve the health of women from Peru to Paris, from Lebanon to Los Angeles, from Senegal to Singapore.
In just fourteen years – the time it takes to raise a child from birth to adolescence – a wave of human destruction has swept over our planet. In that time, HIV has claimed the lives of more than six million men, women, and children. And today, more than 18 million citizens of the world are living with this insidious virus.
We know that women constitute more than 40 percent of adult HIV infections around the globe – and, tragically, that number is growing. By the end of the century, experts predict that most new HIV infections will be among women and children.
We know that biologically and socially women are more vulnerable to HIV infection.
We know that HIV expresses itself differently in women than it does in men. And, as we approach the dawn of the 21st century, we know that the real faces of AIDS include our mothers and our daughters, our sisters and our aunts, our neighbors and our friends.
The face of AIDS is the 30 year-old woman in Zimbabwe who is struggling to survive with her partner, who is also infected with HIV.
The face of AIDS is the 24 year-old woman in the United States who exchanges sex for food and shelter and is now living with AIDS.
The face of AIDS is the 42 year-old woman in London who, having unknowingly infected her children, must watch her family disintegrate before her eyes.
And, the face of AIDS is the 11 year-old girl in the Philippines forced to raise herself because both of her parents were stolen away by this cruel pandemic.
But, these women are not alone.
Because, in the face of this tragedy, there are also glimmers of hope. Women, from around the world, using their minds and bodies and souls: researching vaccines and cures; raising money and raising awareness; holding families together; and fighting for policies that will help stop this disease and heal those it strikes.
That’s exactly why we are here.
We meet today to demonstrate our solidarity against HIV and AIDS, our determination to conquer it, and our commitment – now and always – to compassionately support those members of our global family who have been affected by it.
Let me be clear: Any breach in international solidarity is a victory for the virus. Because AIDS does not discriminate. It knows no boundaries of geography or gender; ethnicity or employment. It makes no distinctions based on age, nationality, or sexual orientation. So, our efforts must be just as universal in scope.
In the United States, we have significantly increased the resources devoted to combating HIV and AIDS at home and around the world.
We have re-focused and re-energized our research agenda and developed frank and honest public education campaigns.
We have – as a matter of national policy – directly involved non-governmental organizations in the planning and implementation of our AIDS strategy.
We’re forging partnerships with our pharmaceutical industry, experts from academia, and members of the AIDS community to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and speed the development of AIDS-related drugs.
And, through it all, we are working tirelessly to empower women to protect themselves against HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. I’m talking about supporting private efforts to develop the female condom.
I’m talking about doubling our commitment to develop a microbicide that women can use privately to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
I’m talking about capitalizing on the landmark results of AIDS Clinical Trials Group 076. The evidence that we can block perinatal transmission of HIV with a drug has created a bright ray of hope for countless women and their children.
And I’m talking about providing appropriate and compassionate care to all those who are living with HIV and AIDS.
We can make their lives better, if not longer, but it will require greater will and greater resources. But it is clearly not enough.
To meet this challenge, all of us must encircle the globe, creating an international front to stop the spread of this disease and the pain and suffering it causes.
As members of the global family, the people of the United States remain committed to the international partnership against HIV and AIDS.
The President’s budget includes a strong commitment for direct assistance to international AIDS activities – demonstrating the United States continuing dedication to these efforts as the lead bilateral contributor.
We are also firmly supporting the new United Nations AIDS Program and its visionary director, Dr. Peter Piot . In just a few short months, Dr. Piot and his colleagues have made tremendous gains.
But the success of UNAIDS, and the success of every other international effort, will depend upon all nations committing their hearts, their minds, and their resources to get the job done.
So, before we leave here tonight, let us challenge ourselves to improve and expand education programs that teach women about their own bodies so that they can protect their own lives.
Let us educate our men – especially our young men – to respect women and to protect their families by taking personal responsibility for preventing the spread of the disease.
Let us continue to support biomedical research, uncovering great scientific discoveries that empower women to protect themselves against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Let us make treatment for sexually transmitted diseases available to men and women so that we can reduce this critical co-factor to HIV infection.
And, above all, let us never forget the underlying socioeconomic factors that prevent women from protecting themselves and their families.
Because, our battle against HIV and AIDS is also a battle against racism, sexism, poverty, and homophobia. And, we must continue to confront these battles – individually and collectively – if we are to win the war against AIDS.
As citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to stand up for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS. It is our responsibility to wipe out discrimination as we work to wipe out this deadly disease.
Because, if we are to conquer HIV – and I firmly believe that we will – it will take an unprecedented level of international cooperation and collective action.
It will take courage and creativity. It will take passion and perseverance. It will take loud voices and bold visions. But, it must be done and it will be done.
In the names of those who have been affected by HIV and AIDS throughout the globe; citizens we have lost and those we may lose; all of us must join hands, now and forever, to fight to reach our common goal. Thank you.