National

Survivors seek justice
from podium

Twenty-two women, living with HIV/AIDS and having gone through human trafficking, exploitation and violence, gathered in Nusa Dua on Thursday for a mock trial to demand justice.

Their action was a call for involvement by society and for an end to the stigma against them.

The women came from six Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, Cambodia and Singapore.

Zar Zar (not her real name) from Myanmar, a 24-year-old with HIV, which she contracted after being forced into prostitution, said she was happy to meet others like herself at the gathering.

"It's not good to say, *I'm not alone', but for me I feel so encouraged I can start my life again," she said in a statement read by Myanmar HIV/AIDS activist Khin San Htwe.

Zar Zar is from Yangon, where she used to work in a factory to support her parents and two younger sisters. One day, a friend of her mother's offered her a better-paying job in Ruili, a town on the border with China.

Zar Zar became a waitress in a restaurant there, and 10 days later, a Chinese man offered her better work in a bar. This turned out to be work as a prostitute, which she was forced into after the Chinese man hit and raped her repeatedly.

"This is how I started my life as a sex worker. I had no choice because I was no longer a virgin and I needed money for my family," wrote Zar Zar, adding she stayed on under threat of being reported to the police.

In 2007, a medical checkup showed she had HIV. After this, her employer released her.

"I want the world to know that although we're women living with HIV, we're still humans, we still have our lives, futures, hopes and dignity," she wrote.

"Please don't forget us. We need your support, understanding, well treatment and encouragement."

Indonesian Ana, 24, who works for the NGO Partisan, told of being fired from a factory in Penang, Malaysia, after contracting HIV through sharing needles.

"For the Indonesian government especially, I really need them to give more attention, support and information to their people who want to work abroad," she said.

"Please educate them well, in terms of basic information on how to take care of themselves - from crimes to health problems."

State Minister for Women's Empowerment Meutia Hatta Swasono said that in the context of HIV/AIDS, it was crucial to strive for gender equality to protect women.

"Many women are still culturally not empowered," she said.

"This makes them liabilities to progress. Our task is to turn women from being liabilities into progressive assets of development."

International coordinator for the Court of Women, Corinne Kumar, said the 37th court of women in Southeast of Asia was aimed at promoting public awareness.

The mock trial, the Southeast Asia Court of Women on HIV and Human Trafficking, was held in line with the four-day 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Nusa Dua.

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