Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde, has urged her Parliamentary colleagues to join forces with her Ministry to fight the stigma and discrimination which continues to plague those living with HIV and AIDS.
Speaking at a sensitization workshop yesterday for local parliamentarians, sponsored by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), Minister Forde contended: “Parliamentarians and faith-based leaders sometimes do not fathom the extent to which they can impact the lives of citizens. We are in a very privileged position for all of us to come together, despite political party or persuasion or position in society.
“We must put aside any differences that we have and work collectively to turn this scourge on its head and do it for the people of Barbados and the people of the region.”
The Minister, whose Ministry has responsibility for the National HIV/AIDS Commission, endorsed the view of former Secretary General of the United Nations, the late Kofi Annan, that the challenge of AIDS was a test of leadership.
She added: “In addition to leadership, it requires deep personal and political courage to make some of the bold decisions to grapple with the most vexing social determinants that drive the transmission of HIV.”
What was necessary, she posited, was a transformed social landscape that provided equal opportunities for all citizens to achieve a sustainable and acceptable standard of living and to fully participate in the overall development of the country.
“Our charge therefore is to contribute to overall socio-economic development, as well as the empowerment of all members of society through involvement at the highest level, evidence-based policies, and equitable access to social programmes and services so that no one is left behind.”
She maintained that all parliamentarians, given their position as the legislature, must strive for a system of governance that was grounded in promoting and protecting the human rights of all people, including those vulnerable groups who might feel alienated or were stigmatized and discriminated against by mainstream society.
“We know that there is a lot we have to do and a lot that we can do and a lot we must do. Part of that is owning our response, and making those bold and sometimes unpopular but necessary decisions. That is an approach that is certainly not unfamiliar to this government,” Minister Forde concluded.