Baha'i International Community issues statement on HIV/AIDS

UNITED NATIONS - In a statement prepared for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, the Baha'i International Community called for behavioral changes on the part of men and women - and for greater "love and compassion" on the part of religious leaders and people of faith - as part of an overall effort to address the worldwide HIV/AIDS crisis.

"In order to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS among women, concrete changes need to occur in the sexual attitudes and behavior of both men and women, but especially men," said the statement, which was entitled "HIV/AIDS and Gender Equality: Transforming Attitudes and Behaviors" and was prepared for the UN Special Session, which took place at the United Nations in New York 25-27 June 2001.

"Fallacious notions about the naturally voracious sexual appetites of men must be addressed," continued the statement, which said there is an "undeniable association of AIDS" with sexism.

The statement said men should be a focus of efforts to promote behavioral change "because of the control they have traditionally exercised over women's lives."

"The real consequences to women - and men - of the practice of satisfying one's sexual desires outside of marriage must be fully understood," said the statement. "Educating women and girls is critically important, but the current power imbalance between men and women can prevent a woman from acting in her own interest."

The statement also called on religious leaders and people of faith "to respond with love and compassion to the intense personal suffering of those either directly or indirectly affected by the AIDS crisis."

"Because the cultivation of humanity's noble, spiritual core has always been the province of religion, religious communities can play an important role in bringing about the change of heart and the consequent change in behaviors that will make possible an effective response to the AIDS crisis," the statement said.

"The leaders of faith communities are especially equipped to address the moral dimension of the AIDS crisis both in terms of its prevention and its treatment. The spread of HIV/AIDS would be significantly reduced if individuals were taught to respect the sanctity of the family by practicing abstinence before marriage and fidelity to one's spouse while married, as underscored in most faith traditions.

The statement noted that a "tendency on the part of society as a whole to judge and blame those afflicted has, since the onset of this disease, stifled compassion for its victims."

"What is often forgotten is that "moral conduct" includes not only personal restraint but compassion and humility as well," the statement said. "Faith communities will need to strive continually to rid themselves of judgmental attitudes so that they can exert the kind of moral leadership that encourages personal responsibility, love for one another, and the courage to protect vulnerable groups in society."

To read the entire Statement, follow this link.