By International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW)
“Being a woman is hard enough already without the diagnosis of HIV. HIV has been removed from the Sustainable Development Goals because medication is working so well, but unfortunately there are no pills for the stigma and discrimination we face.” – 26 year old woman living with HIV.
This statement rings true for many women and girls, particularly the nearly 17 million women living with HIV who experience stigma and discrimination that is heightened by gender oppression.
Let’s look at the facts.
Despite major advances, HIV still remains the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, UNAIDS reported an increase in new infections among adolescent girls and young women aged 10–24 years. Denial of the fundamental human rights of women, persistent inequality, and persecution of key populations continue to drive the epidemic in many regions globally.
Women continue to face intersectional burdens of HIV and gender inequality, and experience high levels of violence, stigma, discrimination, and violations of their human rights including their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women who are part of vulnerable populations such as women who use drugs, transgender women, women from indigenous communities, and sex workers experience even higher burdens of HIV. A key example of this, is highlighted by the fact that HIV prevalence among sex workers is 12 times greater than among the general population.
Last year, global leaders set a visionary goal to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 and contribute to effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, we must look at the issue holistically—there is no “Ending AIDS” without gender equality.
As Melinda Gates once said, “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult”.
So this International Women’s Day, we ask that you join us at the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) to help be a voice for all women and girls. Now is the time to join together on a global stage and call on governments, policy makers and all stakeholders to strengthen their commitment to support participation and engagement of women living with HIV. Focusing on policy formulation, programme implementation, and holding leaders accountable for effective implementation of services for women and girls is the only way forward.
It is clear that unless the structural inequities that impact women and girls are at the centre of these efforts, these ambitious targets will remain a vision rather than a reality.