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Gender equality and women's empowerment critical to ending AIDS

Submitted by unaidsadmin on Thu, 2018-03-08 09:27 - 0 Comments

International Women's Day 2018 message from Dr. César Núñez, UNAIDS Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team Director

@CesrNunez

What can we do so that all girls in Latin America and the Caribbean are safe, healthy and educated?

How do we ensure adolescents have the information and services they need to avoid or cope with teen pregnancy?

Where do women and girls dealing with violence and abuse turn for support?

These questions are as relevant to the AIDS response as they are to other development sectors. While scaling up treatment availability and focusing on key populations put us on track, we will not end AIDS if we do not address women’s needs. We must strengthen the systems that empower women and girls, while addressing the factors that make them vulnerable. That’s why gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are central to the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

As part of the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, countries have committed to implementing a gender-transformative AIDS response. To achieve this, states must uphold women’s human rights, address harmful gender norms and ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights are in place. The region has made important strides in all these areas.

Last year governments in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago took legislative action to ban child marriage. This is an important step toward supporting girls’ equal opportunity to realize their full potential. 

The region has joined the global #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, shining light on the social issues of sexual harassment, gender-based violence and gender inequality. In the Caribbean, the #LifeInLeggings movement moved from social media to the streets, offering a platform to challenge behaviors and beliefs that perpetuate violence.

There is good news from the region’s AIDS response as well. From 2010 to 2016 there was an eight percent decrease in new HIV infections among women in the Caribbean. And of the eleven countries and territories that have been validated as having eliminated mother-to-child HIV and syphilis transmission, seven—Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Montserrat and St. Kitts and Nevis—are from this region.  This is not just a success of health systems. It is also due to the resolve and courage of women to ensure that their children are born HIV-free.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018 we reflect on how to build on these successes to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind. Women living with HIV must lead the way in identifying community needs and advocating for change. They should be equal partners in the decision-making processes that affect their lives… not just patients.

If we listen to them we will hear about far more than testing and treatment. They understand the need for women living with HIV to access comprehensive services including housing, food security, transportation, employment support, legal assistance and mental healthcare. They know more than most how important it is for adolescents to have access to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services. And they can explain how some women’s ability to access and stay on treatment are undermined by fear, violence, stigma and discrimination.

UNAIDS reiterates its commitment as part of the H6 Partnership to implement the Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health. We also affirm our support to the Spouses of Caribbean Leaders Action Network. They are championing the “Every Woman Every Child” initiative which is designed to help children and adolescents realize their rights to health, well-being, education and full and equal participation in society. It’s a big agenda, but this region can do it!

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The UNAIDS team offers the Caribbean the broad expertise of cosponsors and other UN organisations in areas such as program development and management, women and child health, education, legal networking, community care initiatives and resource mobilisation. The goal is an expanded response to HIV in the region with the world’s second highest HIV prevalence.