By Ms. Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM
Date: 28 November 2008
Occasion: World AIDS Day, 1 December 2008.
This year marks the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day. Looking back over the last 20 years, we see there has been progress — there is not only greater awareness of the gender dimensions of HIV and AIDS but also greater commitment to addressing these. But today, let us instead look forward, to what the world could look like 20 years from now, if we are able to deliver on these commitments. We would then have cause not just for commemoration but also for celebration.
Imagine a world where every woman who needs treatment, whether young or old, gets it; where women in all countries are allowed to inherit equally with men — in practice as well as in law; where women in all countries are aware about their rights to prevention, treatment and care, and are empowered to claim these rights; where HIV-positive women are shaping the policies that affect their lives and making decisions on policy priorities and budgets.
Imagine a world where every woman, young and old, lives without fear of violence, stigma or dispossession if she decides to seek an HIV test, or treatment, or support or information; where public health systems are fully funded and staffed and household care givers — mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters — can keep their jobs or continue in school, rather than having to take on the never-ending care-giving tasks for families and communities.
What does it mean to deliver on our commitments so we can realize such a world? It means ensuring women's equal access to prevention, treatment and care, utilizing a range of different outreach strategies, including mobile health centers and waiver of user fees.
It means supporting women as "agents of change," by investing in their leadership to transform agendas and uphold women's rights. It is essential that programmes and strategies incorporate the experiences and voices of positive women — who are living the reality of HIV and AIDS.
It means ensuring accountability and institutional change, including building staff capacity in National AIDS councils and incorporating gender expertise in national AIDS coordinating bodies and establishing codes of conduct among health care workers; and performance review indicators that take delivery to women's needs into account.
Above all it means strong leadership, both strategic and visible — not only by those in power but by those directly affected, who must also be empowered to take it. It requires greater investment in proven strategies so that resources are large enough and deep enough for the transformation that we know is possible — in laws, institutions, and social norms. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has dramatically underscored the urgent need to ensure that denial of women's rights is not tolerated.
So while we acknowledge the progress that has been made in the last 20 years, and honour those who have brought it about, including governments, civil society, and UN and donor partners, we know how much more we need to do to make the future world possible. We will have made sure that women are no longer subordinate in society, and their equal rights are secure — to health, education, economic independence, political participation, self-determination, and protection from harm, abuse, and violence.
We know what needs to be done. We need to lead, empower, and deliver.