The world?s largest AIDS conference begins next Sunday in Toronto, Canada. About 24,000 people are expected to attend. Among them are members of many women?s groups from around the world who have united under the banner of the Athena Network. 

The Athena Network aims to advance gender equality and human rights, as well as the global response to HIV/AIDS, based on the principles of the Barcelona Bill of Rights.

That document was published at the international AIDS conference in that Spanish city in 2002. It states among other things that women and girls have the right to live with dignity and equality; to safety, security and freedom from fear of physical and sexual violence; and to be free of stigma, discrimination, blame and denial.

Monruedee Laphimon is leading the Athena Network?s delegation from Thailand to the 16th International AIDS Conference.

?It?s a group of women?s activists who have been using the international AIDS conference as a platform to dialogue among those working in international levels, doing international lobbying and advocacy in the international arena. And also those working in the country level, in the field, like me and other people from South Africa or somewhere else,? she says.

The Athena Network is co-sponsor of a women?s march planned for the morning of Monday, August 14th, in Toronto. It will also sponsor many activities and workshops, including those in an area of the AIDS conference known as The Global Village.

?The Global Village is open for anybody at all who?s a conference delegate or who are just people from the local community. So, it?s actually open for everyone, not just those who have the conference badge and get access to the conference. But the Global Village is pretty much the space that the community from different parts of the world come an exchange the work that they do on the ground,? says Laphimon.

The theme of the conference, also known as AIDS 2006, is Time to Deliver. Laphimon says the time to deliver needed treatment, care and services to women affected by the pandemic is long overdue.

?You know, there?s been a lot of talk and talk and discussion about the Millennium Development Goals, talking about universal access to prevention, treatment and care, all that stuff. But it?s mostly in the papers. It?s only paper-wise. It?s not action. But then the conference in Barcelona and then in (Bangkok) Thailand calling for action. But actually it?s only action during the time of the conference, but afterward it hasn?t been pushed that hard,? she says.

More information can be found about the Athena Network at their website at

The 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto runs from August 13th through the 18th