Feature story

Gender equality and empowerment of women and girls essential in getting to zero

26 July 2013

The particular impact that HIV has on women and girls was discussed during a panel discussion organised in conjunction with the 55th Session of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Broad ranging discussion took place during the event on how gender inequality, poverty, harmful cultural practices, and unequal power relations exacerbates their vulnerability to HIV infection.

Also underscored was the important, if not central, role of human rights and creating an enabling environment for women and girls. Participants agreed that countries must do more to ensure women and girls have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and HIV services.

The keynote speech was given by Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director, Management and Governance, UNAIDS who said the Committee could help to ensure that governments make HIV services available and accessible to all women and girls including sex workers, women who inject drugs and transwomen. Looking to the post-2015 agenda, she stressed the importance of leveraging synergies across movements to advance sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The panellists agreed that all barriers hampering women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services must be removed, and they called on State Parties to CEDAW to make the necessary investments to facilitate access to SRH services. They also encouraged State Parties to enhance their reporting on human rights issues as it relates to women and HIV and to better use CEDAW to advance the rights of women and women living with HIV in particular.


For UNAIDS, the integration of human rights in the AIDS response is non-negotiable. Ending new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths will not be possible without attention to the social and legal contexts in which people live. Reaching zero discrimination will not be possible if people do not have access to justice.

Jan Beagle, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director

The most effective response to HIV is the global empowerment of women. The CEDAW Convention should be the basis for this empowerment, namely through women’s equal access to employment and their full participation in economic and social life.

Nicole Ameline, Chair of CEDAW

Gender discrimination is at the heart of the greater vulnerability that women experience. When women do not have a strong social and political role, when their access to education is unequal, we realize that the risk of HIV infection is so much higher.

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights