Statement

Women’s Rights Are at the Core of Addressing the AIDS Pandemic

By Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM Executive Director

Date: 1 December 2009

Occasion: World AIDS Day, 1 December 2009.

A recent report by the World Health Organization revealed that AIDS is the leading killer of women of reproductive age in poor and middle-income countries. This is unacceptable at a time when HIV treatment is available. As we are commemorating World AIDS Day, we need to ensure that efforts are undertaken to understand the particular needs and special circumstances of women and girls confronting the epidemic.

We need to do better in targeting actions, allocating budget resources, and tracking progress accordingly. Responding through the health sector is important, and investing in biomedical solutions such as new preventive technologies, treatments and cures must continue. Yet there must be an equally rigorous and well-financed effort to address the root causes of HIV, and that lie within social, economic and political structures.

We now know that at every point along the HIV/AIDS continuum, from preventing the spread of the virus to diminishing its impact, this crisis affects women and men differently. Disaggregating data by sex and undertaking analysis of the situation of women, men, girls, and boys are critical first steps — and should be prerequisites for resource allocation, medical research, legislative reform, and social security support in order to guarantee equal access and benefit for women and girls.

With the pressure on government budgets in the context of the global economic crisis and the unpredictability of official development assistance (ODA), cuts in public expenditures in the social sector are likely to occur. We must ensure that this time of economic turmoil does not result in a negative impact on HIV prevention, treatment, and support programmes, particularly for women, who are already marginalized in the response.

The advancement of gender equality must be at the core of the response to the pandemic. We know that women’s vulnerability to HIV is closely connected to gender discrimination and the continued violation of women’s rights. Empowering women will enable them to negotiate safer sex and protect themselves from HIV infection. Aware of their rights, women will be encouraged to seek treatment, care and support.

This year’s 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) should serve to reinforce its importance as an instrument for helping turn the tide of the pandemic. Called the international bill of women’s human rights, CEDAW is a critical tool to understand what is required to achieve gender equality and how to bring about concrete changes to realize women’s human rights.

The year 2010 will be a critical year as we review progress on countries’ commitments on HIV/AIDS, and we must do our utmost to remove the barriers that stand in the way of universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for all — women, men, girls, and boys. We must continue to demonstrate leadership and invest resources targeted to the priorities of women and girls; this includes addressing social, economic and legal factors that negatively impact on women. HIV and AIDS and persistent gender inequality are mutually reinforcing crises; we must tackle them together to achieve lasting change.