The International Women´s Day commemorates the fight of women for participation and equality and to eradicate gender inequities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, such an important day is propitious to call the attention to women´s vulnerability to HIV. Empowering women and girls and close the gap of gender inequities, is a central component of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the goal to end the aids epidemic by 2030.
At a global level, women account for 51% of adults living with HIV. Adolescent girls and young women are particularly vulnerable: in 2014, 3.9 million of young people lived with HIV, and 58% of them were young women. Though concentrated epidemics in key populations are characteristic in Latin America and the Caribbean, during the last decade the proportion of women living with HIV has grown constantly. In 2014, 540,000 women over 15 years lived with HIV in Latin America, i.e. 31% of all people with HIV in the region, whilst in 2001 they accounted for 28%. In the Caribbean, 130,000 women were living with HIV in 2014, representing 50% of the entire adult population living with HIV.
Women and girls´ vulnerability to HIV is closely linked to gender inequities in politics, economics and society, and equally to gender violence and abuse. Several studies show an association between experiences of violence and HIV infection. In all countries and environments, women who suffered violence from their partners showed twice the probability of acquiring HIV, compared to those that have not experienced acts of violence from their partners.
On the other hand, early initiation of sexuality, a reality in Latin America and the Caribbean, exposes girls and adolescents to a higher risk of HIV infection, specifically when it is associated with violent relationships, as it is often impossible for them to negotiate condom use. Limited access to friendly integral services, information and education on sexual and reproductive health raise the vulnerability of girls and young women.
Child marriage is another worrisome issue, which limits the opportunities of development of girls and young women and increases the possibility of early pregnancy, with the risk of complications or infection with HIV.
On the occasion of this 8th of March, UN Women and UNAIDS recognize the determined work of women and organizations which fight by their side, showing the link between violence and gender inequities as drivers of the infection of HIV. We, therefore, reiterate the necessity of common efforts of States and their governments, civil society and international cooperation to:
• Strengthen leadership of women and girls to have access to services, knowledge and claim their rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.
• Ensure and strengthen a joint response to HIV and gender based violence eliminating barriers in access to services and eliminating forced sterilization.
• Provide technical support to civil society networks, especially those of women living with HIV, for a sustainable response in the framework of the 90-90-90 targets and Zero Discrimination.
• Eliminate child marriage, a harmful practice which affects adolescents and girls
• Mobilize additional funding for integration of elimination of gender based violence in the HIV response.
• Strengthen alliances for a joint collaboration between women’s organizations, feminists and networks and organizations working in the areas of HIV, gender based violence and gender equity.
Gender equity and elimination of gender based violence are essential to ensure women and girls can fully enjoy their human rights.