Debating Sexual Health and Rights in Latin America
New Billboard in Santiago Promotes Use of Condoms to Prevent Spread of HIV/AIDS
SANTIAGO, CHILE—A startling message will greet government delegates from Latin America and the Caribbean gathering in Santiago this week. As they drive from the airport, a massive billboard promoting the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS will fill the skyline. Delegates convening for an important UN meeting, the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean ad hoc Committee on Population and Development, March 10-11, will read what Catholics think about the abstinence-only policies being promoted by the current Bush administration and the Vatican. Policies promoted by the Bush administration—that place abstention above proven preventative methods like the use of condoms—adversely affect the standard of healthcare that people all over the region receive.
The advert, part of a global public education effort, uses the message, “Good Catholics Use Condoms.” It is the latest phase in the Condoms4Life campaign featuring provocative, eye–catching ads with heterosexual and gay couples appearing in newspapers, on billboards and bus shelters and incorporating internet action alerts and educational materials geared to reach Catholics at risk of HIV/AIDS with the truth about condoms. The ads will appear in select cities in Latin America, North America, Europe and Africa throughout 2004.
The ads reach out to the sexually active Catholic community and present a positive message of sexuality, responsibility and caring for others. The campaign acknowledges that sexually active Catholics, gay and straight, need information and support that counteracts the abstinence-only messages being promoted by the Bush administration and the Vatican. The ads especially appeal to people of faith noting that: “We believe in God. We believe that sex is sacred. We believe in caring for each other. We believe in using condoms.”
Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said, “It is clear that the Bush administration is promoting an abstinence-only message as pay back to his right-wing base in an election year. Through this special advertising campaign, we want to send a message to reproductive health leaders and policymakers about the importance of promoting condom use as a means of preventing the spread of AIDS. We must all use this message to counter the effect of the Bush administration’s own policies which contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. ”
Verónica Díaz, coordinator of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir in Chile, said, “We were delighted this week to be joined in our pro-condom campaign by the anti-apartheid hero, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. His statement in support of the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS was a challenge to President Bush and Catholic bishops to adopt a humanitarian position that will save people’s lives. They should take notice and listen.”
Sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice, the Condoms4Life campaign has congratulated bishops’ conferences in France and the Netherlands and individual bishops who support a change in church policy. Both Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa have spoken out recently in favor of condoms as an AIDS prevention tool. Earlier this year, Bishop Danneels told the Roman Catholic television program Kruispunt in the Netherlands that if any HIV-positive person has sex not using a condom, they would be sinning against the fifth commandment—“You shall not kill.” And Bishop Dowling wrote an article in a recent issue of U.S. Catholic in which he states, “I believe our credibility as a church is on the line here… For me, the condom…question is not simply a matter of chastity but of justice.”
The meeting in Santiago marks the tenth anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where 179 countries adopted, by consensus, the Programme of Action to reduce maternal mortality and promote the provision of reproductive health services to all women. Both Catholics for a Free Choice and its Latin American partners Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir will be active at the Santiago meeting, urging governments to live up to the commitments they made to women’s health and reproductive rights at Cairo.
Click here to view a PDF of the billboard.