By Hassan Zaggi
The last is yet to be heard of the alleged sexual harassment which has almost torn the United Nations Agency on AIDS (UNAIDS).
This is as 205 women working in UNAIDS Offices across the world from every level and every continent have written and collectively signed a petition denying the allegation.
It would be recalled that the Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, has in recent times been is facing intense pressure to resign over his handling of a recent sexual assault allegation.
Three South African civil society groups have called for an independent inquiry into the agency’s leadership, while the Aids Healthcare Foundation has written to António Guterres, the UN’s Secretary Seneral, calling for Sidibé to stand down. The AFH is a non-profit organisation that provides HIV care to hundreds of thousands of people globally.
In the petition, the 205 UNAIDS women said: “We, the undersigned women from the UNAIDS Secretariat, write in response to the recent articles in the media, which quote a UNAIDS staff member as having said that the organization had allowed a “allow sexist culture where women are more window dressing than actually recognized for their performance” and that there is “an expectation to trade sexual favors for promotions and other advancements “.
“We categorically reject this portrayal as it does not represent our experience of working at UNAIDS and diminishes and discredits us as professionals and our many years of dedicated service.”
The women further noted that one person or an individual has no capacity to “speak to our individual experiences or our values - especially without our collaboration and consent.
“We represent a diversity of culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, HIV status and expertise.
“We are united by our commitment to the AIDS response, women’s empowerment and the right to live free from violence and harassment.”
The over 200 women further noted that they stand by and support all people who have experienced sexual harassment, stressing that: “We are active and committed participants in the process of change at UNAIDS to ensure an inclusive environment with zero tolerance for all forms of harassment.
“We stand in solidarity with the AIDS response - one of the most remarkable responses to an epidemic in modern history.
“We are proud to work for UNAIDS and the people we serve through our work, bringing hope, dignity and health to millions around the world.