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Red Ribbon Award Ceremony: Key note speech

Speech given by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette-Marit on community level engagement of young people and next generation leadership at the Red Ribbon Award Ceremony in Washington D.C., 25 July 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last month, in New Delhi, I met a beautiful little girl – Manisha.

Manisha is 8 years old, HIV positive – and she has TB co infection. Manisha nearly died because she had no access to medication. Today, she is on treatment thanks to Operation Asha – a small organization that offers supportive services to TB and HIV patients.

Operation Asha was founded by a young talented Indian doctor – Shirley – who took action because she realised there were huge uncovered needs for treatment and support among people with HIV and TB in New Delhi.

Community mobilization has always been at the heart of the AIDS response. Many of the hard won gains in the 30 year history of HIV are results of people on the ground – like Shirley and many others – taking action in the face of adversity.

The history of HIV is also the history of a people’s movement. From the beginning, ordinary people with extraordinary will and power have occupied the core of our movement, propelling us forward. Civil society, user and peer groups, together with dedicated service organizations and activists, have expressed impatience and demanded action.

This week, people have marched here in Washington D.C., demanding world leaders fulfill their promise to end AIDS.

Around the globe, people are speaking out: In New Delhi, people have hit the streets to demand treatment and prevention. In South Africa they are calling for gender equity. In Russia, advocates are working on harm reduction for people who use drugs. In every corner of the earth people are advocating and want fulfillment of their human rights to basic health care.

The Red Ribbon Award rightly honors community-based organizations who lead our HIV response. These organizations have the courage to fight the injustices that fuel HIV and to provide critical health services when governments fail.

Still, there is a limit to what drugs, services, structures and professions can do, unless it is matched by people that understand what HIV means in their communities, what it takes to stop transmission, to test and be treated – and what the roots are to vulnerability, stigma and discrimination. Often, these organizations work on tiny budgets under incredibly difficult circumstances – including fear of arrest, violence or worse.

The Red Ribbon Award cuts across all the red tape, the bureaucracies and institutional territories, all the conflicting priorities and global discussions. It honours action on the ground.

Last month we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Aksept - the Norwegian community centre for people affected by HIV.

This is very special place – where I have worked as a volunteer. I am reminded of the importance of community engagement every time I visit. People directly affected is our most important resource in the AIDS response - because they are the ones who know what it’s all about. Therefore, Aksept is not only a safe haven where people experience understanding, belonging and inclusion. It is also an important resource when Norway is shaping its HIV policies.

But most of all – Aksept is a place where people can be free of stigma and discrimination in their everyday lives. One of my friends there expressed it this way: “Sometimes I feel like I am regarded just as the one who is HIV positive. At Aksept, I am allowed to be myself, the whole of me…”

Through our 30 years’ history of AIDS, powerful activists - men and women - have been on the barricades. They have done an incredible job which we benefit from today – and will continue to benefit from in the future.

Fortunately - today a new generation is ready to take leadership. It is my firm belief that young people must be in the centre of the next step in action for change. Young people must be recognized and given space.

They are more than ready to take responsibility.

Here at the International AIDS Conference, we are privileged to be in the midst of an incredible meeting of activists, scientists, programmers and decision-makers. But we also recognize the many young people who are not able to participate in this event, young people who are working every day in their local communities to create a more equitable world.

Every day 3000 young people are infected with HIV. The number is devastating when we reflect upon it for a moment.

Young women aged 15-24 are twice as likely to become infected as young men. Violence and threat of violence hampers the ability of young women and adolescents to make smart decisions and protect themselves from HIV infection.

At a community centre in Nicaragua some years ago, I met an 18 year old mother – Manuela. Manuela was involved in HIV-related community work because she herself had been infected through rape. Her main motivation was to prevent her baby daughter – and other girls in the next generation - from experiencing what she had been through when they grow up. This is – to me – leadership at its core.

But the reason we need young people like Manuela in the response, is not only because she has shown extraordinary leadership. It is because HIV is everybody’s business. We need Manuela to tell us what made her vulnerable. We often underestimate the fact that it’s not the young people who need us – we need them, we need their experience.

We need the capacity and insight of young people in a particular way because:

  • Young people use clear language and are informed.
  • Young people get incredibly much done with limited means.
  • Young people have the capacity and the tools to connect the dots and help us face reality.
  • Young people´s influential power is growing because of global networks and social media.
  • Young people advocate for resources, action and accountability – not just as a global movement – but in every country. - Young people are ready to challenge the silos and taboos that still surround HIV in our families and communities. The Global Youth Coalition (GYCA) in Egypt is a leading example.

This is why I believe young people should get more space for leadership, more public attention and more substantial funding. They have proved their ability to deliver. Now we need to do the same.

As UNAIDS Special Representative, I am very happy to see that the UN system is currently in a process of transforming the way they are working with and involving youth. I want to applaud Michel for his incredible work in this field.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Every movement starts at the grassroots. The Red Ribbon Award honours those who deserve to be honoured the most. The impact of organizations mobilizing people in communities always defies our expectations:

Every person who is reached with HIV education, or accompanied to see a doctor so they feel safe to access medical care, or supported to have a healthy pregnancy, makes a difference.

Every time a young person living with HIV speaks out against stigma and discrimination, our world improves.

Every time - when people most affected by HIV – women, people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people – demand to be included – the HIV response grows stronger and more effective.

We celebrate you and are inspired by your ability and commitment to make a difference.

When I think about Manisha in New Delhi, I am confident that she is alive thanks to people like you. Today we honor those who bring hope to Manisha and other people of all ages in a similar situation.

The Indian writer Arundhati Roy said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Today we honor those who are creating our world anew.


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