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COURTESY VISIT BY THE HOPE SISTERS AGAINST HIV/AIDS, STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION INITIATIVE

On the 29th day of August, 2018, the Hope Sisters Against HIV/AIDS, Stigma and Discrimination Initiative, a Women-Led Grassroot Civic Group in Makurdi, Benue State paid a Courtesy Visit to Lawyers Alert Head Office in order to identify with the LA and strengthen the existing working relationship between both Organizations.

 

The group was led Miss. Maria Okwoli, the Executive Director, she was received by Mr. Lazarus M. Ahangba, the Programs Manager of the Head Office. In her address, Miss. Okwoli prays LA for their assistance and support to the members of their group since the partnership started a few months ago. She said the visit was necessary owing to changes within the Organization especially at the leadership level. As a key partner and stakeholder to the Organization it becomes pertinent to formally visit and intimate the Organization of the changes that had occurred within the period. She went ahead to create the indulgence of LA to continue with the support it has always given to the group even with this new leadership that they look forward to a harmonious relationship with LA going forward.

In response, Mr. Lazarus, thanked the group for their visit and expressed delight over the group commitment to course of Women Human Rights especially those of the most vulnerable which they represent. He promised LA will continue to work and partner with the group particularly in areas of mutual interests. Furthermore, he told the group that the offer to build the capacity of its members on Monitoring/Documentation of Human Rights Violations, Gender Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights is still open and they can liaise with the appropriate officers in charge of those areas.

In addition, R.A. Hwande Esq, mentioned the efforts of LA in providing pro bono services to vulnerable women and how they can also explore same. He went ahead to give examples of past and recent incidences LA had offered pro bono to some members of their group in conflict with the law.

After this, the meeting came to an end with a vote of thanks by Miss. Okwoli. She thanked LA for finding time to host them and look forward to a better working relationship. Shortly after this, a group photograph was taken.

 

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Posted by on August 31, 2018 in HIV/AIDS & HUMAN RIGHTS

 

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Passage of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law: Matters Arising

By Jerome, Uneje Mary

Since the advent of HIV and AIDS in Nigeria in the early 90s, it is estimated that over 3 million people are either suffering from the scourge or lost their lives . 2.5 million Children have been made orphans amidst other damning statistics. People Living Positively (PLP) often suffer untold hardships, discrimination and even stigma. This discrimination takes place mostly at work places, places of worships, neighbourhoods and other social units. The media is awash with stories of employment termination, marriage refusal at worship places, forced tests been conducted on suspected persons amongst other forms of discrimination.  “HIV/AIDS related stigmatization and discrimination remain a big challenge threatening the fight against the epidemic and the achievement of Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria.

Experts and pundits alike in the HIV/AIDS sector have always claimed that the most effective and efficient measure that will address and put paid to the issue of discrimination and stigmatization of PLP in Nigeria is the passage of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law. This however had been a running battle between Civil Society, PLPs versus Government Officials responsible for the passage of the law. This culminated in a Civil Society/PLP protest at the national assembly in Abuja 2013.

The signing of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law by the present administration of President GoodLuck Jonathan is relevant, important and most of all commendable. This newly signed Law is committed to stopping all forms of stigma and discrimination against People Living Positively. The law also makes provision for the prevention of discrimination and also access to healthcare services. It also seeks to protect the rights and dignity of People Living with HIV and AIDS. The importance of this law cannot be overemphasized enough.

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As a Pro-Human Rights Organization, we at Lawyers Alert have always been involved in the clamour for the passage of the law both at the state and the federal level. This is to enhance the protection of the rights and privileges of vulnerable persons based on their health status. We therefore, wholeheartedly support and commend the signing of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law.

As commendable as this has been, a lot still needs to be done. Experience has shown that laws in Nigeria are always passed but hardly implemented neither are there adequate measures put in place for their implementation. This sad situation negates the essence of such laws. We therefore, hope that this law will not suffer the same fate given the stiff challenges faced during the struggle for its passage. In the light of the above, we therefore emphasis on the need for proper implementation of the law across the country.

There is also need for the passage of the law across all the federating state assemblies. This is necessary as some states fail to replicate or domesticate laws that have been passed at the federal level for reasons best known to them. An example of such is the public procurement act of 2007 of which only a handful states have so far domesticated.

Most of all, there is a strong need for the law and its provisions to be made available in a simple and easy to comprehend language to the people. The passage of a law is one thing and its understanding by the people is another. Both are two sides of a coin. Where a law is neither understood nor made available by and to the people, such law is bound to fail on arrival. Therefore there will be a strong need for government to make the law available to the people in a language and manner that will be most understood by them.

The media, civil society and other relevant stakeholders are hereby enjoined to contribute immensely to the widespread and assimilation of this law to the people especially at the grassroots where there is ignorance and widespread of HIV/AIDS.

In conclusion, the signing of this law is a huge contribution towards the reduction and consequent elimination of all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. We therefore, commend the government for such a noble and courageous act. We also hope that our recommendations will be adequately implemented so as to ensure that the spirit and the letter of the anti-discrimination HIV/AIDS law as signed will lead to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against people living positively.

Jerome, Uneje Mary  is  the  Program Officer, Lawyers Allert

 
 

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HIV AND AIDS: COMMUNITY LED INTERVENTIONS, WOMEN AND INFANTS

To effectively meet the growing trend of infections among infants and growing infections in rural Nigeria, Lawyers Alert proposes the filling of gaps of lack of engagement of local authorities by the communities. These communities are in themselves in most instances neither capacitated nor empowered towards engagement.

There is therefore a dire need to address the gap in Community led interventions which are often splintered, scattered and isolated without coordination and unity of purposes. Often there are no links to State Bodies and Policymakers which in Nigeria principally is NACA at the federal level and SACA at States levels.

To this end, Lawyers Alert has been making efforts by principally engaging policy makers in Benue state towards the establishment of an all inclusive Community Action Committee on AIDS empowered and capacitated to lead Community based interventions by interfacing with local authorities at the local government levels.

The establishment of Community Action Committee on AIDS CACA will be the best way to address the worrying trend of infected infants and disempowered women. These Committees can and will trigger locally led interventions premised on approaching issues of gender equity, access to education/health, gender relations, enhanced Health Services for pregnant and young mothers/infants through human rights lens.

By the creation and establishment of CACA, the Communities would have an all inclusive Community platform for intervention and engagement of policy makers in an empowered, coordinated and informed manner. The capacity of CACA would be built to approach issues that exacerbate mother to child transmission like Cultural practices, gender equity, access to Education/Health for women. This will enable Communities appreciate the need to respect the Rights of everyone especially women to education, health, inheritance and a shift from cultural practices that violate women rights.

The benefits of community led approaches would be immense:

Firstly, the ability to have all inclusive Community Action Committee will automatically translate to, coordinated approach that addresses all concerns and more likely to attract the desired attention from Government.

Secondly, the ability to view cultural practices, gender relations, access to education and health through Human Rights issues will enhance the ability of the Community to move away from anti Human Rights practices and culture that exacerbate spread of AIDS and negativity impact of PMTCT. It will also lead to a much more consistent Community demand and advocacy on Government to deliver an education and health as this will be seen as Human Rights.

Thirdly, partnerships with other Human Rights Bodies and NGOs will be much more likely given the Human Rights approach to the issues by the Community.

Fourthly, the documented issues (cultural, gender relations and guarantee) will be a powerful tool for advocacy by the Community, networking, and alliance building with like minded Bodies who will also use the documents to advocate on behalf of the Community.

Lawyers Alert is hopeful of that these approach will be accepted and probably commenced in at least two pilot communities and eventually scaled up when the benefits begin to be evident.

 
 

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HIV and AIDS, Ethics, Human Rights and the Law

Lawyers’ Alert work in HIV and AIDS is restricted to principally two thematic areas, Human Rights Education and Rights Enforcement through litigation/Advocacy. Secondly massive education and capacity building on Preventing Mother To Child Transmission, PMTC.  We believe successfully preventing and eliminating Mother to Child Transmission will be a key step in wiping out new infections and ultimately end AIDS.

Our involvement began in 2003, when Lawyers Alert organised a workshop in Benue State on HIV and AIDS in relation to Human Rights. The theme of the workshop was “HIV and AIDS, Ethics, Human Rights and the Law”. The workshop was for Persons living with HIV and AIDS, NGO’s and Policy makers with the support of the British Council. The workshop sought to explore positive living against the backdrop of the law and human rights in Nigeria, using Benue State as a case study.

 

Following the workshop it was established by participants that there indeed exist a lot of human rights violations by the state and non state actors in principally the rights to health, education and employment with regard to especially women and children.

 

Following this cardinal finding by participants, in 2004, Lawyers Alert carried out a situation analysis on HIV and the Law in Benue wherein we published  booklet titled “HIV and AIDS: A Legal Framework” where we explored the relationship between Human Rights and the treatment of persons living with AIDS.   This book is the product of engagement with the community of persons living positively and legal institutions. It became crystal clear that while Government has beautiful and well laid out plans in States Strategies, political will often do not match the strategy papers.

Owing to frustrations of non implementation of strategy documents, Lawyers Alert alongside the Community of person+ explored the idea of creation of obligations on the state and private hospitals, schools and industries with regard to women and children so this can be enforced.  Only a law can achieve this, and this has been the struggle since 2005, to have a Non Discrimination Law passed by the State that will regulate and create obligations on routine testing of pregnant mothers, early infant diagnosis, adequate Medicare for mothers and children living with AIDS, access to education and non discrimination at workplaces, etc.

Legislation in these areas will go a long way in preventing mother to Child transmission, eliminate discrimination, enhance access to education, and guarantee employment for women.

Lawyers Alert has continuously partnered the then State Action Committee on AIDS on issues bothering on human rights and the law regarding HIV and AIDS. We specifically drafted the Bill transforming the State Committee to an Agency so as to make it more effective. The Bill has since been passed into law. Over the years we have effectively participated in the drafting of State strategic Plans for the Agency inclusive of other activities.

Lawyers Alert has represented over 100 person+ in efforts at enforcing or protecting their rights to accommodations, uninformed testing, workplace discriminations etc. We have carried out over 12 workshops, in building capacity and creating awareness on rights of person+ in Benue, Nassarawa and Plateau States.

Regarding PMTC, we are involved in mass community education in changing values especially with regard to Gender. Gender empowerment and elimination of stigma is key to effective PMTC. When the rights of women are respected by elimination of violence, disinheritance, access to education created and jobs provided, with fewer stigmas and discrimination, PMTC will succeed.

We have carried out efforts in these regard through awareness creation/capacity building and community theatre in especially between 2008 to date.

All Lawyers Alert programs have the above main streamed into it.

Lawyers Alert is presently in the process of developing tools to measure the impact of our work in Benue, Nassarawa and Plateau States in the sphere of HIV and AIDs/ Human Rights.

 

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in HIV/AIDS & HUMAN RIGHTS

 

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