TV & Radio
N.J. group buys airtime for ad backing transgender rights
By MATTHEW VERRINDER
Associated Press Writer
December 1, 2005, 5:42 PM EST
TRENTON, N.J. -- A gay and lesbian rights group has bought airtime for a 30-second television ad to back legislation that would expand state anti-discrimination law to include transgender people.
Titled "Carol," Garden State Equality's spot features Carol Barlow, a Clifton woman who claims to have been cold-shouldered by 1,000 potential employers because she is transgender.
"Transgender people are being treated like dirt and it's disgraceful," said Steven Goldstein, the group's chairman. "The passage of this legislation would rank right up there with legalizing marriage of gay couples as one of the top two priorities of New Jersey's gay and lesbian community."
The legislation is currently before the Judiciary committees of both the Assembly and Senate.
The ad will air 21 times on News 12 New Jersey between Dec. 5 and Dec. 11, most heavily during commercial breaks of its "Power and Politics" program.
Garden State Equality's legal adviser, Leslie Ann Farber, 49, was born a male but started living as a female more than a year ago.
"I've lost a few clients since I've become a woman," Farber said. "Doors get closed in people's faces, so this bill is crucial."
Transgender people include those who have not only altered themselves physically or sexually to appear like the opposite gender, but those who dress or act, even occasionally, like the opposite sex, Farber said.
Current state anti-discrmination law includes only sexual orientation or affection, not gender identity.
2 Women Elected to Saudi Commerce Team
By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI, Associated Press Writer
Wed Nov 30, 3:02 PM ET
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Two businesswomen have become Saudi Arabia's first female elected officials, a historic step in a deeply conservative country where women are largely barred from public life.
Saudi officials said Wednesday that Lama al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher had won election to the board of Jiddah's chamber of commerce. Little information was available about the two women, who could not be reached for comment.
The chamber's weekend elections were the first polls in Saudi Arabia in which women were allowed to run and to vote.
"It seems the decision ... came from very high up, and it's likely going to be followed with more steps," said Badreiah al-Beshr, a Saudi sociologist who follows women's issues. "It was a preparatory move, but the road ahead is still a difficult one."
Women were not allowed to vote or stand as candidates in the kingdom's first nationwide municipal elections earlier this year. Electoral officials have said women might cast votes in municipal balloting in 2009.
The Jiddah Trade and Industry Chamber initially rejected the nomination of 10 women for its board of governors, but the kingdom's trade minister order the chamber to open the door to female candidates, and allow women to vote, after a flood of petitions from businesswomen.
King Abdullah, who ascended to the throne in August and is seen as a reformist monarch, has said he wants to lighten restrictions on women. Women are prevented from driving cars or traveling abroad without permission of a male guardian.
Earlier this year, female business executives in the eastern city of Dammam were allowed to vote in their chamber of commerce polls, but only if a male guardian cast their ballots for them.
Al-Beshr said the government was approaching the issue of women in politics cautiously because of the kingdom's long-standing and deeply conservative brand of Islam. The Saudi royal family retains absolute power and Saudis cannot hold public gatherings to discuss political or social issues.
Jiddah, a Red Sea port, is the kingdom's second-largest city after Riyadh, the capital. Women make up about 10 percent of the 40,000 members of the Jiddah chamber. The two women will join 16 men on its board.
Saudi women make electoral breakthrough
Brian Whitaker and agencies in Riyadh
Thursday December 1, 2005
Two candidates became the first women to win elected office in Saudi Arabia yesterday when they took seats on the board of Jeddah's chamber of commerce.
In a country where women are generally excluded from public life the surprise result was viewed as significant. When the conservative kingdom held local government elections earlier this year - the first in more than half a century - women were not allowed to vote or run for office.
"I'm a bit in shock, but this shows people are ready for women to play a role," Lama Sulaiman, one of the winners, told Reuters. She and fellow-businesswoman Nashwa Taher will join 10 elected men on the board, along with six other people to be appointed by the government.
Some 21,000 members of the chamber were entitled to vote, with a choice of 71 candidates - 17 of whom were women. Voting was spread over four days and, in accordance with the Saudi tradition of segregating the sexes, the first two days were reserved for female voters.
It became clear yesterday that the women, who both secured more than 1,000 votes, had been elected mainly through male support. About 100 women voted, compared with around 4,000 men.
By tradition, attitudes in the port of Jeddah are far more liberal than those in the capital, Riyadh. Some businessmen said they voted for female candidates because they believed in women's participation, and others said it was because women were running on an electoral list they favoured. A banker, Mazen al-Tamimi, told the Jeddah daily, Arab News, that he had voted for three women. "They are able women, otherwise I wouldn't have voted for them," he said.
Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 16:13 GMT
Women candidates are business leaders in Jeddah - BBC
Two Saudi businesswomen have been elected in the kingdom's first ballot in which women were allowed to stand.
Lama al-Suleiman and Nashwa Taher were among 12 successful candidates voted onto the board of Jeddah's chamber of commerce and industry.
The turnout was low and the election was only a local affair, but analysts say it is a significant step.
Earlier this year women were barred from voting or standing in elections for seats on local councils.
"I'm happy, but I'm still in shock," said mother-of-four Mrs Suleiman, 39.
"It's a big leap for Saudi women, an answer to what people want," she told AFP news agency.
Seventeen women competed with 54 men for seats on the board.
Women voted on Saturday and Sunday, and men on Monday and Tuesday, in line with Saudi restrictions on unrelated men and women mixing in public places.
But the turnout was low among the female electorate, with only 100 women voting compared with about 4,000 men.
That means the women were elected with strong support from their male counterparts.
In general, voting is still a novelty in the kingdom, says BBC analyst Roger Hardy - and for the many Saudis who want reform, progress has been painfully slow.
Eight months after the elections for the all-male municipal councils the councils have yet to meet.
King Abdullah has made the promotion of women in society a priority of Saudi Arabia's 2005-2009 development plan, but the authorities have emphasised it will have to be in line with what they see as the principles of Islam.
Saudi women score twice in first polls
Wed Nov 30, 3:12 AM ET - AFP
Two Saudi businesswomen swept to an unprecedented victory in elections to the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the first polls in which women stood as candidates in the conservative Muslim kingdom.
"I'm happy, but I'm still under shock," Lama al-Suleiman, one of the two winners, told AFP, summing up the feelings of many election activists and watchers who had expected one woman at best to be voted into office.
"It's a big leap for Saudi women, an answer to what people want," said Suleiman, a 39-year-old mother of four.
Suleiman and fellow female winner Nashwa Taher ran on a list of heavyweight business people and industrialists which clinched the 12 board seats up for grabs, according to results released early Wednesday.
With only 100 women among the some 3,880 chamber members who cast ballots, the pair's victory was effectively handed by men.
"We should give them (women) a chance because they have little representation in society," one male voter said Tuesday, adding he had voted for four women.
The two businesswomen's win came several months after landmark municipal elections across oil-rich Saudi Arabia from which women were barred but which were credited by many for heightening public interest in the chamber polls in the Red Sea city and turning them into a hotly-contested race.
The fact that women, who previously were entitled only to vote for the Jeddah chamber's board of directors, stood as candidates "was also an unusual event which contributed to making this election unusual," said Othman Basaqr, a member of a task force which assisted the elections committee.
"This is what everybody seems to be telling me," Suleiman said when asked if she felt she had made history.
Seventeen women were among the 71 candidates in the elections which took place from Saturday through Tuesday. Businesswomen cast their ballots on the first two days and businessmen on the following days, in line with traditions whereby Saudi women do not mix in public with men other than relatives.
Some 21,000 members of the Jeddah chamber, or about half the total membership, were eligible to take part in the polls, but election officials said both the turnout and the number of candidates were a record in the chamber's 60-year history.
Suleiman admitted she partly owed her victory to having run on a strong list, but she said it was also due to the fact that "a lot of people wanted to encourage women."
In their election programs, both Suleiman and Taher, who sits on the board of a group of family companies, vowed to back a center which assists businesswomen and to help women working from home.
Victory "means we will have more work ... There's a lot for us to learn, but I'm sure we will manage," said Suleiman, who holds a PhD in nutrition from Kings College in London.
Trade and Industry Minister Hashem Yamani is due to appoint an additional six members to the Jeddah chamber board.
The polls were rescheduled from late September by Yamani specifically to enable women to stand after the elections committee linked to his ministry had rejected the candidacies of seven women.
Hisham Khoja, a merchant who said he voted for one female hopeful, noted that the Saudi government was giving women more job opportunities.
But one businesswoman, who asked not to be named, said she did not think US pressure for reform was helping Saudi women.
"In fact, it may be delaying progress ... We are moving forward in our own, low-profile way," she said.
インドのＨＩＶ感染爆発の恐れ 国連合同エイズ計画指摘 (東京 2005/12/02)
南ア最高裁 同性婚認める判断 (NHK 2005/12/02)
アフリカ初の同性婚容認へ (共同 2005/12/02)
South Africa gays get equal marital status
By Michael Wines The New York Times
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2005
JOHANNESBURG South Africa's highest court ruled Thursday that same-sex marriages enjoyed the same legal status as those between men and women, effectively making the nation one of just five worldwide that have removed legal barriers to gay and lesbian unions.
But the Constitutional Court, as the high court is known, effectively stayed its ruling for one year to give the national Parliament time to amend a 1961 marriage law to reflect its decision. Should the legislature balk, the court said, the law will be automatically changed to make its provisions sex-neutral.
Few expect Parliament to resist, even though African nations are generally intolerant of gay relationships and many South Africans are conservative on social issues.
Among political factions here, only the tiny African Christian Democratic Party, whose positions carry a strong religious undercurrent, called for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the legality of gay marriages.
The African National Congress, which controls the presidency and more than two thirds of Parliament's seats, was silent on the court's decision.
The Constitutional Court's decision expanded on a 2004 ruling by the national Supreme Court of Appeal that affirmed the marriage of a lesbian couple, who were nonetheless unable to register their union with the government's Home Affairs department.
The government had appealed the ruling, arguing that the Supreme Court had encroached on Parliament's authority to make laws.
But the Constitutional Court said that the refusal to give legal status to gay marriages, though grounded in common law, violated the constitution's guarantee of equal rights. The justices said that marriage laws must be amended to include the words "or spouse" alongside provisions that now refer to husbands and wives.
The 12-justice decision was essentially unanimous, with one judge arguing that the ruling should take effect immediately rather than being stayed.
Some religious organizations and one political party dissented bitterly. The African Christian Democratic Party said through a spokesman that Parliament should amend the constitution to overturn the court's decision, arguing that "studies of previous civilizations reveal than when a society strays from the sexual ethic of marriage, it deteriorates and eventually disintegrates."
But homosexuality here is not the sort of burning social issue that has driven some movements like American political conservatives.
South African gays have recently won a series of court rulings extending to homosexuals the rights and protections afforded other citizens. The government-sponsored tourism board this week announced an advertising blitz in Britain aimed at attracting gay couples to Cape Town "for the honeymoon of their dreams in 2006."
"It's not one of our political fault lines," said Steven Friedman, a top political analyst at Johannesburg's Center for Political Studies, a nonprofit research center. "The major issue in this society is race. That's why people join political parties. The party of social conservatism is African Christian Democratic Party, which wins one percent of the vote. And that's the group of people who feel that this justifies amending the constitution."
Among some homosexual groups, there was disappointment that the court imposed a one-year delay on its ruling. But South Africa's oldest gay and lesbian support group, the Cape Town-based Triangle Project, hailed the decision as a victory over discrimination not simply against homosexuals, but against all minorities.
"To grant equality to gay and lesbian people, I would think, is a significant step in democratic reform in this country," Dawn Betteridge, the organization's director, said in a telephone interview. "And I would hope that all South Africans would be celebrating that."
One of the winning attorneys in the lawsuit, Keketso Meama, expressed disappointment in a telephone interview at the delay in fully legalizing same-sex unions, but he said the ruling nevertheless was a striking victory for gays and lesbians, who had had few rights for most of South Africa's three centuries of colonial history.
"We still have to wait 12 months," she said, "but it's fine. We've already waited 300 years."
Parliament ordered to allow gay marriage
Johannesburg, South Africa
01 December 2005 10:51 - Sapa
It is unconstitutional to prevent gay people from enjoying the legal benefits of marriage, the Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday.
It gave Parliament one year to rework laws allowing same-sex unions. If Parliament does not do this in one year, the Marriage Act will be rewritten to include the words "or spouse" to allow these unions to take place.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that two women, Marie Fourie and Cecilia Bonthuys, should be allowed to get married, but the couple later found they were unable to register their church wedding with the Department of Home Affairs.
The departments of justice and home affairs went to the Constitutional Court, seeking leave to appeal the decision on the grounds that only Parliament, not the courts, may amend legislation and that the court had given a ruling on something for which it had not been asked.
In a separate application, the court has been asked by the couple and by an alliance of gay and lesbian organisations for the marriage formula under the Marriage Act of 1961 to be changed to include the words "or spouse" instead of "husband" and "wife".
Same-sex couples may marry at present, but the marriage is not recognised in law.
Why wait 12 months?
Gay and lesbian groups were disappointed on Thursday that they will have to wait a year before they can get married.
"Why wait 12 months?," asked Thuli Madi, from the lesbian and gay rights group Behind the Mask.
"If Parliament does not do anything in 12 months, we can marry anyway, so why not make it effective now?"
Fikile Vilakazi, of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, said: "We are not happy... because for a year we don't have equality."
'The wonderful context'
The right-of-centre African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) expressed its disappointment at the judgement, saying the Constitution should be changed to underpin the traditional concept of marriage.
ACDP member of Parliament Steve Swart said their view was that "no state or court should seek to alter the traditional, and, from time immemorial, universal understanding of God-given marriage as heterosexual, and of course in terms of Christian understanding, also monogamous.
"We affirm that the traditional understanding of marriage is correct, that it is the God-given context for male/female bonding, mutual care, sexual intimacy and inter-dependent support.
"Then it is the God-given place for the procreation of children and the production of the next generation in the world ... it is the proper, best, safest and most wonderful context and shelter for the nurturing and raising of children." -- Sapa
Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 10:40 GMT
South Africa to have gay weddings - BBC
South Africa's highest court has ruled in favour of same-sex marriages, which are banned under current legislation.
The Constitutional Court ordered that parliament amend marriage laws to allow gay weddings within a year.
The constitution outlaws discrimination against gays and lesbians, but social attitudes remain more conservative.
The court ordered that the definition of marriage be changed from a "union between a man and a woman" to a "union between two persons".
Last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal had ruled in a case brought by a lesbian couple that the current law discriminated against homosexuals.
But the home affairs department went to the Constitutional Court, arguing that only parliament could change the law.
"The common law definition of marriage is declared to be inconsistent with the constitution and invalid to the extent that it does not permit same-sex couples to enjoy the status and benefits it accords heterosexual couples," said Justice Albie Sachs in his ruling, AFP reports.
After the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled last November that Marie Fourie and Cecilia Bonthuys should be allowed to wed, they later found they were unable to register for a church wedding at the Department of Home Affairs.
Keketso Maema, a lawyer for the Lesbian and Gay Equality project, said he was disappointed that the Constitutional Court did not order the immediate legalisation of gay marriages.
"It's a bit disappointing. It feels like it's one step forward and still another one step backwards," he told Reuters news agency.
Church groups in South Africa have argued that the issue should be put to a referendum, and say that most South Africans would oppose the legalisation of gay marriages.
South Africa's constitution - introduced in 1996 - was the first in the world specifically to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference.
South Africa to legalise gay marriage
Ben Townley, GAY.COM
Thursday 1 December, 2005 11:16
The South African government has been told its bar on gay marriage is unconstitutional by the country’s highest court.
It must now give same-sex couples access within the next 12 months, the Constitutional Court said.
The ruling, the latest in a string of decisions on gay marriage across the globe, follows a ruling by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal that said the government must give a lesbian couple the right to marry.
It had been eagerly awaited by gay campaigners in the country, who warned that the existing block on lesbian and gay couples goes against the country’s ground-breaking constitution.
After the fall of apartheid, South Africa became the first country in the world to introduce legal protection against discrimination for lesbian and gay people in its new constitution.
In his ruling, Justice Albie Sachs said this existing legislation meant a ban on gay marriage was “invalid”.
"The common law definition of marriage is declared to be inconsistent with the constitution and invalid to the extent that it does not permit same-sex couples to enjoy the status and benefits it accords heterosexual couples," the ruling read, according to news reports.
South Africa is now set to become the fifth country to legalise full marriage access for same-sex couples.
The court said that even if parliament does object to the decision and makes no move, the law would be changed regardless.
Marriage will now be open as a “union between two persons”.
The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada currently allow full gay marriage, as well as the US state of Massachusetts.
South Africa is the first to do so on the African continent, but it has long stood at odds with other conservative countries on the continent when it comes to sexual diversity.
As well as protecting lesbians and gays under its post-apartheid legislation, it has also targeted itself at lesbian and gay tourists as a premier destination.
The country’s government is yet to respond to the ruling.
Court sets South Africa on course for gay marriage
Thu Dec 1, 2005 4:42 AM ET
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's high court on Thursday said it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry and instructed parliament to amend marriage laws to include same-sex unions within the year.
The Constitutional Court ruling put South Africa on course to become at least the world's fifth country to permit same-sex marriage and the first in Africa, where homosexuality remains largely taboo.
The court, ruling on a government appeal against a lower court order which opened the door to gay marriage, said parliament would have one year to change the current definition of marriage which holds that it is between a husband and wife.
Gay activists have argued that the official law should be changed to read "spouse" in order to include same-sex partners.
"The current definition of marriage is considered to be inconsistent with the constitution ... the declaration of validity (of the marriage definition) is extended for 12 months after this judgment to remedy the defect," the ruling said.
The court said that if parliament did not act the legal definition of marriage would be automatically changed to include same-sex unions. That would put South Africa alongside Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada in allowing gay marriages.
Only one of the court's 11 judges dissented from the ruling, arguing the court should have legalized gay marriage with immediate effect.
Post-apartheid South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and the only one to specifically enshrine equal rights for gays and lesbians.
But the government has resisted efforts to broaden the official definition of marriage in the courts, arguing that only parliament should have the right to make the change.
Leading churches have argued against the move, saying it flouted public opinion in the mainly Christian country, and called for a referendum on the divisive issue.
Lawyers for gay rights groups said they were disappointed that the court did not act to make gay marriages legal immediately.
"It's a bit disappointing. It feels like it's one step forward and still another one step backwards," said Keketso Maema, a lawyer for the Lesbian and Gay Equality project.
"The good thing about this judgment is if parliament doesn't do anything in 12 months the word 'spouse' would be read into the marriage act. That gets us somewhere," she said.
The ruling puts South Africa out of step with much of Africa, where many countries outlaw homosexuality and publicly condemned it as "un-African."
Gay marriage, finance scandal and star astronaut heat up Canadian election
Thu Dec 1,12:39 AM ET - AFP
The most bitter Canadian election in decades has barely started and already the campaign is preoccupied by a star astronaut's surprise plunge into the campaign and battles over corruption and same-sex marriage.
The winter campaign kicked off Tuesday, a day after opposition parties united to topple Prime Minister Paul Martin's scandal-tainted minority Liberal government in a no-confidence vote.
The election will be on January 23 and the latest polls showed the Liberals tied with the opposition Conservatives.
On Wednesday, the Liberals grabbed the spotlight when Martin announced that Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut and director of the nation's space agency, would run for the party in a rural district near Montreal.
Garneau, 56, became a Canadian hero when he flew on a US space shuttle mission in 1984 and two subsequent space missions.
The Liberals hope that Garneau's star power will give them a much-needed lift in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where the party is dogged by the corruption allegations.
Martin's party is accused of receiving kickbacks from advertising firms awarded millions of dollars in government contracts from 1995 to 2002, when Jean Chretien was prime minister.
The money was meant to stem a growing separatist movement in Quebec, but the scandal resulted in a backlash and eventually led to the censure motion that forced the Liberals from office.
A damning preliminary report released in November by Justice John Gomery, though assigning no civil or criminal culpability, found Chretien was ultimately responsible for the scandal.
Martin, finance minister at the time and a Chretien rival, was exonerated in the inquiry.
But he was hardly helped in his campaign to win back Quebec voters when Chretien revived the scandal this week by accusing the judge of bias.
In a federal court challenge Wednesday, Chretien brought the case back into the headlines when he called Gomery's conclusions "erroneous, perverse (and) capricious."
His lawyer said the timing was not intended to torpedo Martin's electoral hopes, according to reports, but it hardly helped the Liberal effort.
Meanwhile, Conservative leader Stephen Harper resurrected the divisive issue of same-sex marriage back into the center of politics when he pledged to ask parliament to repeal Canada's new same-sex marriage law if he is elected prime minister.
Harper told reporters he hoped to restore the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman via a free vote in the House of Commons.
But his move mainly served to stoke election passions by reviving the debate over the law, which sharply divided the country before it was enacted in June.
Opponents quickly denounced the move, saying Harper would have to override rights enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights with a never-before used constitutional clause.
His move could backfire. Harper's opposition to gay marriage, opposed by a majority of Canadians, scuttled his chance to become prime minister in the last election 17 months ago, according to observers.
More than 3,000 gay couples have wed since the law was passed. These unions would be preserved, Harper said.
Free condoms, rallies for safe sex on World AIDS Day
Thu Dec 1, 2005 01:21 AM ET
By Rahul Sharma
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asia marked World AIDS Day on Thursday with free condoms, mobile phone games and flag-festooned rallies aimed at promoting awareness of a disease that kills millions in rich and poor countries each year.
The United Nations launched the annual event on Thursday by calling for an "exceptional response" to the threat and said that while adult infection rates had dropped in some countries due to increased use of condoms and changes in sexual behavior, the epidemic continued to grow.
The number of people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 2005 had reached its highest level ever at an estimated 40.3 million people, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said in a message to mark the occasion. Nearly half of them are women.
He also urged countries to invest more.
"The lessons of nearly 25 years into the AIDS epidemic are clear. Investments made in HIV prevention break the cycle of new infections ... By making these investments, each and every country can reverse the spread of AIDS," Piot said.
In Cambodia, where AIDS has killed 100,000 people and left 70,000 orphans, thousands of people gathered in the capital Phnom Penh to mark the day, many waving flags with safe sex messages.
The impoverished country has managed to slow its adult infection rate, but authorities say a conservative Buddhist culture has contributed to the spread of the disease.
"Because of our culture our women are facing barriers to telling their husbands to use condoms," said Dr Teng Kunthy, Deputy Secretary General of the National AIDS Authority.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to join student volunteers and ballet dancers to promote AIDS awareness a day after his health minister said many people in large and populous states were being missed out in AIDS counts.
There are 5.13 million people HIV-positive people in India, second only to South Africa which has the world's greatest number of cases.
A software firm was due to launch four games on nine million mobile phones in India that would teach users about AIDS.
"Time is less. We need to mobilize people to combat HIV/AIDS using the best possible technology and media solutions like media games," said Subhi Quraishi, chief executive officer of New Delhi-based ZMQ Software Systems.
China's government, worried that the spread of AIDS could damage the country's economic development, was due to launch an AIDS awareness campaign to educate millions of migrant workers -- farmers who flock to cities in search of higher-paying jobs.
Health Minister Gao Qiang said on Wednesday that China aimed to keep the number of people infected by the HIV virus to below 1.5 million by 2010, a forecast sharply lower than the World Health Organization estimate of 10 million if nothing is done.
The official number of confirmed HIV cases in China was 135,630 at the end of September, a rise of 52 percent over a year before, but poor monitoring and official obstruction obscures the true scale of the epidemic, top AIDS official Wang Longde has said.
In Tokyo, health workers were set later in the day to hand out condoms near the Shibuya train station, a favorite spot of the young, and non-governmental organisations were to hold an "anti-AIDS concert."
A health ministry official said it was difficult to organize more such events due to a lack of money and manpower, which activists say illustrated official indifference.
Japan may be one of the world's most advanced nations, but it also a country where AIDS cases have not dropped dramatically. Some experts say that cumulative numbers could jump to 50,000 by 2010 due to increased sexual activity among teenagers.
Nearly half of all 17-year-old girls have had sex, up from around 17 percent in 1990. For boys, the figure is 40 percent, nearly double the 1990 figure, health ministry data shows. In Vietnam, the Communist Party issued a directive calling on authorities to crack down harder on drug abuse and prostitution and educate young people about "healthy lifestyles."
Australia said it would donate A$10 million over five years to help fight HIV/AIDS in India and urged people to remain focused on the disease.
"We have to be vigilant, we have to keep talking about the virus so people don't drop their guard. HIV/AIDS is not going to go away. We can provide treatment, but prevention is clearly what we are seeking," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.
But Gabe McCarthy, president of the National Association for People Living with HIV/AIDS, said she was disappointed by Australia's lack of political leadership on the issue.
"It seems these days that HIV just isn't as sexy as bird flu," she said in Canberra.
(With contributions from Kamil Zaheer in NEW DELHI, Michelle Nichols in CANBERRA, Elaine Lies in TOKYO, Vivi Lin and Benjamin Kang Lim in BEIJING, Ek Madra in PHNOM PENH and Nguyen Nhat Lam in HANOI)
HIV Breeds on Complacent Attitudes Among Youth
TOKYO, Nov 30 (IPS) - Eri Iwase, 19, a pretty first year university student, says she is not worried about being infected with HIV virus that causes Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), even though she is sexually active.
''I just feel AIDS is a disease that has nothing to do with me," she said, explaining that her studies, part-time work, hobbies and meeting her boyfriend, keeps her too busy to learn more about the virus that is believed raging across Japan.
Such a complacent attitude, among sexually active young people, represents the uphill struggle that Japan faces in trying to control AIDS in a country where not only the population but also the government, continues to ignore the danger of the virus spreading.
Japan has over 10,000 officially known cases of AIDS/HIV, low compared to other industrialised nations but troubling because new infections reached a record, 1,165 in 2004 -- making it the only G7 country in which new infections have been increasing since 1993.
Moreover, government statistics indicate about 40 percent of the new figures represent people in their teens or twenties --a 24 percent rise from 2003. Condom use has also decreased 20 percent in 2005, say doctors.
''Despite various programmes, we are finding it really hard to penetrate the younger generation and already the statistics show nearly half of 17- year-olds have experienced sex," says Hideko Fujimori, who heads Action Against AIDS, a small grass-root organization involved in promoting protection against AIDS.
Fujimori attributes this situation to various problems. He cited as key issues poor sex education programmes in schools, the lack of frank discussion of sex, especially between parents and children, and low financial support from the government.
"When I visit schools to talk about HIV/AIDS, there is a renewed interest among the students but that dies down a week later. New measures to make it "cool" to talk about AIDS protection is the best way to empower children to help themselves," he said.
Fujimori is planning to launch a new project next April where high-school students will be trained to develop programmes geared to raise awareness.
Takuya Togawa, director of the AIDS program at the Health and Welfare Ministry, acknowledges the lack of progress in combating HIV in Japan.
''There are barriers in our current projects aimed at reaching youth. We are requesting a larger budget from 2006 to strengthen AIDS awareness projects that will, from now on, involve more activists rather than rely too heavily on doctors and health centres manned by local municipalities," he said.
Japan's AIDS/HIV budget is around 80 million US dollars per year. Activists say a large part of the funds is spent on research and treatment, leaving insufficient money to finance protection programmes that are geared specially to youth.
For instance, HIV testing centers manned by municipalities also cover various other diseases and are based on appointments restricted to once or twice a week. Activists say that despite testing being conducted on an anonymous basis, the formal atmosphere turns young people away.
Dr Masaki Kihara, a well-known AIDS expert, has developed sex education classes that incorporate social issues affecting children such as lack of peer support, problems with parents, and the importance of being able to develop close and equal intimate relationships with the opposite gender.
''My research has shown that freewheeling sexual habits among youth usually stems from their poor personal relationships. By being able to talk about these social issues in class, we aim to help children develop self-confidence that will protect them from risky sexual behaviour,"
Kihara's methods have found support among teachers and parents who oppose explicit education in schools such as condom usage, a major problem for advocates who see the gap between attitude towards sex between he older and younger generation in Japan as working towards the AIDS crisis in Japan.
Kihara also hopes to tackle the lucrative sex industry in Japan that employees young women, some in high school, which he says is linked to the Japanese AIDS problem.
Police reports this year indicate that the sex-delivery business--where customers are offered services over their mobile phones--has now reached more than 2,700 businesses employing around 500,000 people each. (END/2005)