Ways to improve women's health in the HIV context

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Ways to improve women's health in the HIV context

24 July 2012

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and Governance, Jan Beagle speaking at the session titled "Securing Investment in HIV and Gender Equality for Social Change". Washington DC, 24 July 2012.

Investing in HIV responses that address the needs and rights of women and girls was the main focus of a High-Level Panel meeting held at the 19th International AIDS Conference titled "Securing Investment in HIV and Gender Equality for Social Change". The aim of the panel was to find ways to secure investment in HIV and gender equality, and to unlock innovative solutions to broader challenges of women’s health, social justice and development.

“We need to have shared responsibility and global solidarity for investing in women and girls,” said UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and Governance, Jan Beagle. “We also need close collaboration with communities, including women cultural and traditional leaders and women living with HIV. Only together, we can end AIDS,” she added.

Gender inequality and social injustice exacerbates the biological vulnerability of women and girls to HIV. This has resulted in them accounting for 49% of all people living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, in fact, women account for 58% of all people living with HIV. HIV remains the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age whilst maternal mortality would be 20% lower in the absence of HIV.  

Despite these facts, 60% of low- and middle-income countries do not allocate dedicated resources to address the specific needs of women and girls in their national HIV responses. Current global policy dialogue also reveals divided views on advancing women’s rights, in particular their sexual and reproductive health and rights, in the context of sustainable development.

The panel discussed ways to capitalize on the experience of the global HIV response and to advance strategic and ground-breaking thinking on securing investment in HIV and gender equality. Panellists exchanged views on innovative and sustainable financing for improved HIV, women's health outcomes and social change, including AIDS tax levy modelled by Zimbabwe, gender-sensitive budgeting, to assess the impact of budget on women and men, and cash transfer, in particular for most vulnerable women and girls.

We need to have shared responsibility and global solidarity for investing in women and girls

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and Governance, Jan Beagle

Discussions also focused on accountability for these health outcomes, utilizing as a reference the Harare Call to Action —a call for a unified action plan for women’s health with specific focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of HIV. The Harare Call to Action resulted from the inaugural GlobalPower Africa Women Network meeting in May 2011 that brought together women political, cultural and traditional leaders, as well as civil society. The Call to Action aims to serve as an important political and advocacy tool, strongly promoting regional ownership and shared responsibility to advance the AIDS response and the wider gender equality agenda. Hon Thokozane Khupe, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and President of the Global Power Africa Women Network stressed “We need to deal with HIV from the source. Let the funding deal with the drivers of the epidemic, particularly those affecting women and girls, and we will succeed in ending AIDS”.

Gender inequality

Gender inequality is a key driver of the HIV epidemic. Women can face barriers in accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services due to limited decision-making power, lack of control over financial resources, restricted mobility and child-care responsibilities. Often, violence and the threat of violence hamper women’s ability to protect themselves from HIV infection and/or to assert healthy sexual decision making.

According to participants, some progress has been achieved, much of it stemming from increased investment in the leadership and meaningful engagement of women and girls, in particular those living with and affected by HIV. However, ensuring that women and girl’s needs and rights are well-addressed and accountability secured remains a promise and a challenge. In line with the 2011 Political Declaration, UNAIDS has committed to advancing human rights, gender equality and zero tolerance for violence in its 2011-2015 Strategy, using the UNAIDS Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV.