From Jewel Quallo-Rosberg, Gender Advisor, Jamaica Sub-Regional Office, UNFPA
Nearly 30 years into the HIV epidemic, persistent gender inequality and human rights violations that put women and girls at greater risk and vulnerability to HIV, continue to hamper progress and threaten the gains that have been made in preventing HIV transmission and increasing access to anti-retroviral treatment. In addition to women and girls’ biological susceptibility to HIV, women and girls face many interacting socio-cultural, economic and legal challenges that worsen their vulnerability to HIV. Young women and girls are often particularly vulnerable to HIV, and at risk of human rights violations. Widespread discrimination, injustice and brutality against women and girls manifest themselves in exclusion from decision-making, epidemic levels of violence against women and girls and impunity for crimes committed against women and girls. The HIV epidemic exacerbates these wrongs, rendering women and girls yet more vulnerable to violations of their human rights and harming society as a whole.
The vulnerability of women and girls to HIV, at both global and national levels, is gaining increased attention. Major financing mechanisms and bilateral donors are making specific efforts to address the HIV-related needs of women and girls. The UNAIDS family, of which UNFPA is a co-sponsor, is also gearing up to more effectively address the needs of women and girls. Women comprise half of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and over 60% in Sub-Saharan Africa. The AIDS response can serve as a catalyst and bring about socio-cultural, political and legal transformations to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of women and girls. By weaving human rights and gender equality into the global AIDS response, women and girls will have the knowledge and power to protect themselves, and also take their rightful, equal place as advocates, leaders and policy makers who drive change. National strategies often fail to include programmes and budgets that address gender inequalities. To sustain the progress that countries have made in responding to HIV, national programmes must address the factors that continue to put women and girls at risk. These responses must have a two-fold aim: achieving women’s equitable access to HIV services and reducing gender inequalities that make women vulnerable to HIV.
While women’s leadership and participation help make HIV services and programmes more sensitive to gender inequalities, opportunities for their participation in decision-making remain limited. Women are too often absent from policy dialogues that shape global and national AIDS policies and programmes. Direct funding to women’s organizations strengthens the capacity for women to reach out with HIV services to women and girls at grassroots levels.
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