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FPATT head: Criminalise hate not HIV

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Trinidad and Tobago is at a crossroads. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are going public and demanding the same human rights as every other person in this country. Young people are having sex in schools. Everywhere, the sexual landscape is changing. Is this a crisis? Or is this an opportunity? We at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) see these events as a tremendous opportunity for this country to make strides in the provision of sexual rights for its citizens, to lift the pall of stigma and discrimination and to fulfil the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights.” Last year FPATT adopted our parent body’s declaration of sexual rights and the core concept that sexual rights are human rights. The International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Declaration is a comprehensive document that outlines the rights of all human beings to fulfilling and pleasurable sexual lives, to sexual and reproductive health services and information, to safety and security from persecution and attack.
The document is available on the IPPF website and I encourage you to read it to get a fuller sense of its gist and provisions.

This declaration has been at the core of our vision at FPATT since we adopted it last year and it has helped to solidify our purpose and direction as one of the premier providers of SRH services and education in Trinidad and Tobago. A year after its adoption, we are very pleased to say we have increased our provision of services, both contraceptive and non-contraceptive, to 140,615 in total for 2010. Clients had 139,822 visits in all, an increase of 65,537 over the previous year. However, FPATT and its partner organisations don’t work in a vacuum. We work in a real country, with real people, some of whom see the changing landscape as a crisis. We who see it as an opportunity and must raise our voices in support of our position. For example, early this year the question of same-sex marriage was raised in a parliamentary debate. As it turned out, the most vocal GLBT group to respond, the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), said same sex marriage was NOT something on which the GLBT community wanted immediate discussion. Instead, CAISO said, the GLBT community wants a guarantee of freedom from the harassment and attacks, bullying in schools, police intimidation and victimisation, and homelessness and underemployment that come as a result of stigma and discrimination.

FPATT sees this moment in our country’s history as the ideal time to correct a serious omission in the Equal Opportunity Act, which currently excludes GLBT status as a basis for its protections. The treatment of this marginalised group is indeed a human rights issue. Only a week ago the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to carry out a study detailing “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity” and to consider “how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” We must ensure that our legislative environment helps, not hinders, in protecting the human rights of all our people. In this context we noted the recent call for the criminalisation of the reckless and wilful spread of HIV. The call came from a sitting High Court Justice and prompted the Attorney General to say the issue would be revisited. Legislation had previously been introduced in the Senate years ago but had been allowed to lapse. FPATT unequivocally urges the honorable AG in revisiting this piece of legislation to hew closely to the UNAIDS guidelines on this, guidelines that give very specific circumstances where the infection of someone with HIV could be considered “wilful”—and we were very pleased to note the justice’s subsequent remarks to this effect.

In our country so many people are still not tested and therefore do not know their status; and there is still so much stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS that even some people who know their status are reluctant to disclose it for fear of victimisation or attack. People living with HIV and AIDS are people, full stop. We ought to encourage them to protect themselves and their partners from infection, to seek treatment and care, to fight for their human rights to work, housing, family and dignity. Laws that hamper these things should not be passed. Honorable AG, FPATT says criminalise hate not HIV. Just this month FPATT was included in a T&T delegation to the High Level Meeting (HLM) on HIV and AIDS. Among the resolutions adopted at the HLM was a call to improve young people’s access to SRH services and education. Too many children are victims of sexual violence, including incest, and participate in early sexual activity to the detriment of their health and welfare. We are willing to work with educators, parents, and youth themselves to develop this and put it in place. Another resolution coming from the HLM said, in part, that “women and girls are still the most affected by the epidemic.

In October of this year, Trinidad and Tobago will be called to account on its protection of human rights at the 12th session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. What will we have to say for ourselves? Did we, as a nation, try our very best to ensure that all our people had full human rights? One of our main sponsors is the Government. As the Honorable Minister of Health is with us today I wish to reiterate our special thanks for the continued support. However, Madam Minister, I also want to ask you to intervene on our behalf. We have received an annual Government subvention of $1 million since 1992 and we would very much appreciate an increase in this amount. A million dollars is not what it used to be. We invite you to sit with us to discuss this subvention and how we can further collaborate in the provision of services and education to our population. As you know, Madam Minister, FPATT is represented on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Technical Working Committee, headed by your Population Programme Unit.

In this context, FPATT can pledge support in assisting your ministry in at least three ways:
• The design and implementation of youth clinics based on our successful model De Living Room;
• training nursing personnel in SRH services; and,
• the sharing of protocols for delivery of SRH services.

In the past year we at FPATT strengthened our programmes for adolescents, providing 15,152 contraceptive services, and 6,518 other services, such as HIV and other STI testing, gynaecological services and specialised counselling to clients aged 14-25. Madam Minister, we know that you are sensitive to our cause. We would like the opportunity to discuss with you how we could contribute to making sure all citizens have access to the best possible SRH services and education our country can provide. Special thanks for a successful year go to our enterprising team: Members of our board of directors, YAM members, staff, and volunteers and their fearless leader, executive director Dona da Costa Martinez. We also recognise the sterling contribution of our president Dr Jacqueline Sharpe, who has been doing a great job at the helm of the IPPF. We are at this moment engaging in a review of our corporate strategic direction. In this our 55th year of operation, we have engaged consultants to develop a plan for the next three years. FPATT and other organisations compete for the same dwindling funds.
At the same time we have felt the effects of a dearth of medical personnel, from doctors and nurses to medical technicians across the board. Yet we still have to ramp up our output from year-to- year and be responsive to changes in the environment and client needs. We must develop a robust human resource plan to treat with these and other challenges.  I have no doubt we can do it, with your continued support. We look forward to another successful year in service to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.


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