Press Release

Women Must Enjoy Control of their Lives, Policies, Budgets to End Feminization of AIDS, Say Leaders at UN Summit

1 June 2006
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, New York — To reverse the spread of AIDS, women must have greater control of their bodies, of their lives, as well as of public policies and budgets, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, demanded today. In addition, everyone needs to understand that progress for women is progress for all, as agreed by global leaders at the 2005 World Summit.

Women and girls are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, said Ms. Obaid, “not because of their individual behaviour, but because of the discrimination and violence they face, the unequal power relations.” In the context of the HIV environment of today, she added, “even being married is a risk factor for women”.

Ms. Obaid spoke during a panel on ending the increased feminization of AIDS—one of the main events of the 2006 High-Level Meeting on AIDS. The gathering, attended by high officials from about 140 countries, is reviewing progress towards achieving the goals of the Declaration of Commitment that was adopted at the 2001 General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS.

“Twenty years ago,” said Ms. Obaid, “one third of adults living with HIV were woman. Today, it has climbed to nearly half.” More women than men are infected in the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. Female HIV infections are on the rise in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. And AIDS is the leading cause of death for 25-34-year-old African-American women in the United States.

Even though women and girls are highly vulnerable to HIV infection, said Ms. Obaid, “they have less access to education and HIV information; less say in matters of marriage and sexual relations; less access to credit and economic opportunities; and little role in designing AIDS policies and responses.”

As a result, she added, “less than 10 per cent of pregnant women in the developing world were offered services to prevent mother to child transmission in 2005.” In addition, “only 20 per cent of young women can correctly identify the ways to prevent HIV infection.”

“Only by addressing the needs and human rights of women and ensuring their full participation,” said Ms. Obaid, “shall we change the course of the epidemic.”

Speaking at the panel, Ulla Tornaes, Minister for Development Cooperation in Denmark, said that while many international agreements recognize the rights of women, “still, we are often faced with difficult negations when we want to reaffirm these rights.” Nevertheless, she added, “we have to keep on insisting…that access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights is a key.”

Nilcea Freire, Minister of the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women of Brazil, said that in order of anti-AIDS efforts to succeed, it is necessary to enhance support for women’s movements and feminist non-governmental organizations. These, she added, are fundamental partners for producing changes that reduce the prevalence of the infection, and have been important factors in the good results obtained in Brazil.

Other participants at the panel included Keesha Effs, member of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Movement; Wanda Nowicka, founder of ASTRA, the Central and Eastern European Women's Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; Dr. Brian Brink, adviser to the Anglo American Group of companies in South Africa; and Lillian Mworeko, the East African Regional Coordinator for the International Community of Women Living with HIV.

***

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

Contact Information:

Abubakar Dungus
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5031
Email: dungus@unfpa.org

Omar Gharzeddine
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5028
Email: gharzeddine@unfpa.org

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