Feature story

High-Level Taskforce to tackle gender inequality

08 December 2011

Prof. Shiela Tlou, UNAIDS Director, Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa speaks at the launch of the High-Level Taskforce on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Credit: UNAIDS/J.Ose

A new High-Level Taskforce on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV for Eastern and Southern Africa was launched at the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). The Taskforce will engage in high-level political advocacy in support of accelerated country actions and monitoring the implementation of the draft Windhoek Declaration for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV.

The draft Windhoek Declaration (April 2011), recommends action in seven key thematic areas including sexual and reproductive health, adopting a multi-stakeholder approach to adders violence against women and HIV and the law, gender and HIV. 

Immediately after the launch of the Taskforce, its members participated in a special session titled Universal Access:  Are we failing to meet the needs of women and girls where they took stock of challenges faced by women and girls throughout Africa.

“We see women at the top of HIV infection numbers, but when it comes to leadership women are at the bottom,” said Dr Speciosa Wandira, former Vice President of Uganda. “The world is insecure because it is in the hands of only half of the gender. But the job of identifying what we need to do is in our hands.”

We need to use good man as role models to show that it is masculine to love and care for women

Prof. Shiela Tlou, UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa

Young women are particularly vulnerable to HIV, accounting for 64% of infections among young people worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, young women make about 70% of young people living with HIV.

Dr Specioza was joined by Dr Fatma Mrisho, Chair of the Taskforce and Executive Chairperson of the Tanzanian AIDS Commission, Dr Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Prof Shiela Tlou, UNAIDS Director, Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, Ms Louis Chingandu, Executive Director of SAfAIDS, Hon Naomi Shaban Minister of Gender of Kenya and Hon Thandi Shongwe Senator and Member of Parliament of Swaziland.

The Taskforce members outlined the directions the group will follow to empower women as well as to hold governments accountable to ensure positive policy development and implementation of legal environments to protect women and girls.

“Many countries have legal support systems in place. However, its implementation is difficult due to social pressure and archaic cultural laws,” said Senator Shongwe.

Participants outlined the need to engage political leadership to challenge harmful cultural norms and laws such as early marriage and wife inheritance. Equally important is the involvement of men and boys in the gender equality equation. “We know what we want,” said Minister Shaban. “But we have not educated men on what we want.”

Prof. Tlou added that, “We need to use good men as role models to show that it is masculine to love and care for women.”

The Taskforce was first conceived at the Technical Meeting on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV, which was jointly convened by the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and UNAIDS.

The meeting, held in Windhoek, Namibia in April 2011,  brought together government and civil society representatives from Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and Regional Directors from UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women.