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Ruth M. Linares Hidalgo – Her fight for women with HIV In Costa Rica

Interview with Ruth M. Linares Hidalgo

What led you to fight for the rights of women living with HIV?

In my soul this fight bears a name: Luis Felipe

You have made important advances in public health policies and the rights of women living with HIV in Costa Rica. Could you tell us briefly about the most important events and achievements of this inspiring story?

Our organisation was born in 1999 and legally constituted in 2004. We achieved inter-institutional agreements with the main government institutions such as INAMU, C.C.S.S., IAFA, among others.

We are referents in political advocacy processes in those spaces where the decisions that affect our humanity are made. From the Executive Branch we achieved the signing of several executive directives and decrees for the benefit of the population living with HIV, in poverty and extreme poverty and gained the effective and integral attention of the C.C.S.S.

We participated in the elaboration of guidelines to carry out a rapid HIV screening test for the high-risk population, among others.

From the legislative power we obtained the unanimous affirmative opinion of the Human Rights Commission to include in the substitute text 19243 of the reform of the HIV law, the motions that include sexual and reproductive health, referral and reference processes, human rights and non-human rights, and violence against women. We are moving forward with this motion until it is official instituted as law.

What does your work as President of ICW Costa Rica consist of?

Being President of ICW-COSTA RICA is seeing a dream come true. Every effort made over the past 20 years has made it possible to:

We respond to the lack of support, information and services available specifically for women and promote the participation of our members in the development of policies.

We build a network of empowered women.

We empower ourselves regarding life, politics, social culture; we prepare ourselves with tools to solve our needs and influence where the decisions that define our humanity are made.

We strengthen community work with ICW’s self-support and empowerment groups in the 7 provinces of Costa Rica.

We implement a model of political advocacy with women living with HIV at the national level and with local governments to defend their human, sexual and reproductive rights in the face of any form of discrimination and violence.

We carry out prevention and awareness campaigns on human, sexual and reproductive rights for HIV prevention, discrimination and violence against women.

We establish inter-institutional agreements including the CCSS, clinics and HIV care commissions that provide opportunities for women living with HIV to improve and develop their quality of life.

Part of the activities of ICW Costa Rica include the ‘Game of Life’ workshops led by Empowerment Groups that are replicated in several provinces across the country. The workshops offer women living with HIV psychological support that allows them to accept their diagnosis and regain hope in life. What makes this project so successful?

The success of this project is due to the methodology used, which touches the core and the reality of the life of each of the participants and gives them tools to find light in the path of their lives. This added to the fact that most of the women here come from many situations of repression, violence, little listening and attention given to them. The simplicity of the program means that, for the first time, the inner child can express herself, can speak and reflect on her fears and the obstacles that she herself has imposed.

How has your experience been as a woman living with HIV who occupies a public and political position in your country?

I consider myself a successful woman, I am clear about my path, I believe in what I do and I prefer to make mistakes rather than doing nothing out of fear. My work in the public and political sector is not the product of a “diagnosis” but of my work and the experience of almost 20 years as an activist and leader in the defense of human, sexual and reproductive rights and the fight against violence against women.

Women living with HIV are often victims of exclusion, discrimination and violence. What advice would you give the lesbian community to strengthen their community in the face of the exclusion and discrimination that lesbian women experience?

I would tell them: Trust in the power they have as women; build their life projects based on their dreams and convictions, that their lives are not defined by what others will say, nor by their sexual preferences; that when they write their life story, it does not matter if the sheet is blank, or which chapter they are writing; NEVER, under any circumstances, allow anyone else to hold the pen.

In your opinion, how do you see the situation of gender equality in the Central American region and beyond? How does inequality affect the most vulnerable and excluded women?

The reality and context of our region, regarding the equality of women, is not always reflected. We are unaware of the difficult economic, political and social conditions that our countries are going through, which are expressed in the deepening of poverty and inequality, and the crises of our political crises, democratic and financial system. The only reference made to women’s rights is the one of economic growth and sustainable development. However the human rights dimension is ignored, which is the basis for gender equality.

States must protect human rights defenders and the environment, and severely punish the persecution and violence they suffer by demanding respect for their rights to land, territory, production and natural resources, including the total protection of indigenous peoples.

We must ensure access to a public, universal, comprehensive, secular, inclusive, quality education to people throughout their lives, seeking to overcome patriarchy, gender stereotypes, and multiple forms of discrimination and violence against girls, adolescents and women, as well as adopting policies to avoid early school abandonment, early pregnancy and early marriages, which impact on life projects, access to adequate living conditions and labor and social inclusion.

The region is experiencing a humanitarian crisis marked by waves of migration that must be recognised and addressed with policies that are based on solidarity with gender, race and age. Women’s and feminist organisations must continue to raise the flag and demand from the governments of the region to commit to leave no one behind, let alone half of the population – women and girls.

What are your expectations for the ELLA Inspiring International Lesbian Conference that will be held in May 2019 in Costa Rica? 

I hope that the event will highlight the reality of women living with HIV and establish sorority partnerships and alliances that will work to transform the reality of women in Latin America.



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