A new UNAIDS report released this month makes it clear that those most vulnerable to the decades-long pandemic continue to be young women and adolescent girls in Africa. The response, the report stresses, must include not only providing additional resources for all aspects of the fight against HIV/Aids but also addressing fundamental issues of gender inequality.
Michel Sidibé, executive director, UNAIDS writes in the report: “Four decades into the HIV epidemic and response, we have made encouraging progress. More people living with HIV than ever before are accessing life-saving treatment; the number of deaths from Aids-related causes has declined; fewer babies are becoming infected with HIV; and new HIV infections have fallen. Africa’s leadership commitments, the tireless efforts of civil society – including the women’s movement and networks of women living with HIV – combined with scientific innovation and global solidarity have helped to achieve these great strides. The response will be strengthened further by the commitment from Africa’s leadership to end the Aids epidemic by 2030, while promoting shared responsibility and unity.
“Yet, despite this progress, adolescent girls and young women are still being left behind and denied their full rights. They are often unable to enjoy the benefits of secondary education and formal paid employment under decent conditions, which would allow them to build skills, assets and resilience. The threat of violence is pervasive – and not only in conflict and post-conflict situations. Many girls are married as children and assume adult roles of motherhood. Adolescent girls and young women are often prevented from seeking services and making decisions about their own health. This combination of factors drives both their risk of acquiring HIV and their vulnerability to HIV. The impact of HIV on young women and adolescent girls is acute: they account for one in five new HIV infections in Africa and are almost three times as likely as their male peers to be living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The variables and risks associated with sexual and reproductive health and HIV among adolescent girls and young women are tied to gender inequalities that are intricately woven into the socio-cultural, economic and political fabric of society. Unleashing the potential of half the population of this region and tapping into the power of the largest youth populace in history will promote both sustainable progress in the HIV response and wider development outcomes.
“In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: ‘If we are to see any real development in the world, then our best investment is women.’ This holds true for the Aids response, which needs greater attention, reaffirmed commitment and resourced action to ensure the health, rights and well-being of adolescent girls and young women throughout their life-cycle. The solutions engage all sectors of society and must embrace innovation.
“The key message of advancing women’s rights and gender equality in order to fast-track the end of the Aids epidemic among adolescent girls and young women outlined in this report is an important contribution to the 2015 African Union theme Year of women’s empowerment and development towards Africa’s agenda 2063. This will guide our blueprint for future action.
“As the African community and the global community stand at the dawn of a new era of sustainable development, let us reaffirm our commitment to empowering girls and young women. A firm foundation of social justice, human rights and gender equality will make the Aids response formidable and the end of the Aids epidemic possible.”UNAIDS material