HIV/AIDS is no longer striking primarily men. Today, more than 20 years into the epidemic, women account for nearly half the 40 million people living with HIV worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, 57 per cent of adults with HIV are women, and young women aged 15 to 24 are more than three times as likely to be infected as young men. Despite this alarming trend, women know less thanmen about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and how to prevent infection, and what little they do know is often rendered useless by the discrimination and violence they face.
This report is an urgent call to action to address the triple threat of gender inequality, poverty and HIV/AIDS. By tackling these forces simultaneously, we can reduce the spread of the epidemic and its devastating consequences.
Women must not be regarded as victims. They are, in many places, leading the way forward. In communities scattered around the globe, women and men are taking action to increase knowledge about the disease, expand access to sexual and reproductive health and educational services, increase women’s ability to negotiate safer sexual relations, combat gender discrimination and violence and increase access to female-controlled prevention methods such as the female condom.
All of these efforts, outlined in this report, are critical. As long as women and adolescent girls are unable to earn an income and exercise their rights to education, health and property, or are threatened with violence, progress on the AIDS front will pass them by. As the stories in this report attest, there is no limit to innovative practices. Strategies for survival are pioneered every day on the ground by women living with HIV/AIDS. The limitations lie elsewhere: in the painful shortage of resources—especially for women and women’s issues––and in the shameful lack of political will to meet international commitments. For too many years, the voices and demands of women, particularly women living with HIV, have fallen on deaf ears. The world can no longer afford to ignore them. We must find the money needed for care and treatment for all. We must put an end to the stigma and discrimination that limit women’s access to treatment and leave them responsible for taking care of the ill and dying. We must make it possible for them to envision a future.
This report grows out of our shared belief that the world must respond to the HIV crisis confronting women. It highlights the work of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS—a UNAIDS initiative that supports and energizes programmes that mitigate the impact of AIDS on girls and women worldwide. Through its advocacy and networking, the Coalition is drawing greater attention to the effects of HIV on women and stimulating concrete, effective action by an ever-increasing range of partners.
We believe this report, with its straightforward analysis and practical responses, can be a valuable advocacy and policy tool for addressing this complex challenge. The call to empower women has never been more urgent. We must act now to strengthen their capacity, resilience and leadership.