UNFPA goodwill ambassador talks tough

In a frank and eloquent appeal to the region’s leaders, media and parents, 1998 Miss Universe, Wendy Fitzwilliam delivered a clear message that “ignorance will not save our lives…sex education and facing facts will” at the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) 2003 Caribbean Media Awards at the Hilton Kingston last week.

In lauding the regional media for taking this once taboo issue into Caribbean homes, she also commended Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados, for being the sole regional leader to have taken an early but unpopular stance on HIV/AIDS prevention in his country, where the disease is under control.

Showing an equally strong sense of foresight and practicality, Fitzwilliam, a Trinidadian, brought six main issues for her attentive audience to consider: curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS, curbing early initiation of sexual activity, fostering behavioural change, promoting gender equality, ending sexual exploitation and dealing with poverty reduction.
HIV/AIDS could derail Caribbean efforts at poverty reduction and sustainable development in the countries of the Caribbean, as the sub-region (including Haiti and the Dominican Republic) has the highest prevalence of this disease (2.2%) in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa which is already being devastated by the epidemic.
Offering hard facts and statistics in her speech, the persuasive attorney-at-law highlighted the vulnerability of the region’s children and, in particular, young girls, to the epidemic. She also made a strong case for the link between tourism and HIV/AIDS. “Many of those tourists may not want to come to a place that is disease-ridden. If they stop, our flow of foreign currency, the money we rely on to maintain our social services, will stop as well.” 
Openly acknowledging that ‘sex sells’, Fitzwilliam was creative in her suggestion of a compromise. “The answer lies in countering the chic provocative marketing of sex with equally provocative marketing of responsible behaviour consistently.”
In offering more practical solutions with which to fight the epidemic, the beauty queen cited communication as an important factor, and suggested a two-prong approach. “We talk to young people directly, in ways that their parents may be too embarrassed to. We also need to address their parents, the teachers, the religious leaders and others to break down their inhibitions, to nudge them towards taking the role that they should have - saving kids’ lives. Better a few blushes than lots of early graves.”

Ambassador Fitzwilliam saluted the stars of the evening, the media, taking the opportunity to remind them of their part and power in the region’s evolution. “Use tonight as an energy boost to continue to more creatively and aggressively pursue the wonderful work you have started.”
Related articles on Caribbean Weekly:
(04/08/03) UNFPA Announces 2003 Caribbean Media Awards
(18/11/03) Former Miss Universe to address media awards in Jamaica