World AIDS Day

Message from UN Women’s Executive Director for World AIDS Day, 1 December 2014

Date: 28 November 2014

The new UNAIDS report released for World AIDS Day calls on us all to take a fast-track approach over the next five years to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. UN Women is proud to be a partner in the collaborative fight against AIDS, and commends UNAIDS on the progress made through this concerted drive.

Ending gender inequality is an essential prerequisite for the success of this effort. Ending gender inequality has to be achieved not only in national and international HIV and AIDS responses, but must also be an integral part of the post-2015 sustainable development framework.

Fast tracking gender equality and ending the AIDS epidemic both require structural change and legal reform to reshape gender norms at all levels and advance women’s human rights. The data show that significant progress has been made towards stemming the AIDS epidemic in overall terms but that young women remain disproportionately affected. Ending AIDS is inextricably linked to removing barriers to women’s access to prevention and treatment and to ensuring equal rights for women to health, education, and economic independence and participation.

According to UNAIDS, new HIV infections in 2013 have declined 38 per cent since 2001, and the number of people dying of AIDS-related causes has similarly declined by 35 per cent since a peak in 2005. This progress is commendable and could not have been achieved without the combined efforts of governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, and the United Nations. However, looking ahead we must focus on the women and girls left behind, and barriers that exclude them from progress.

Today, there are 16 million women living with HIV, constituting 50 per cent of all adults living with HIV globally. But, raising a red flag for the future social and economic health of communities, AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age worldwide. In 2013, almost 60 per cent of all new HIV infections among young persons occurred among adolescent girls and young women; this translates into almost 1,000 young women newly infected with HIV every day. Women in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean constitute more than half of adults living with HIV in those regions, 58 and 53 per cent, respectively. Women in Asia also account for a growing proportion of HIV infections, up from 21 per cent in 1990 to 38 per cent in 2013. This tells us again where our work—and the world’s attention—must be directed.

There are multiple, intersecting factors driving women’s vulnerability to HIV. Unequal power relations between men and women present a major obstacle for women and girls in accessing prevention, treatment, and care and support. Stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence, as well as inequitable laws and customary practices further exacerbate women’s vulnerability and undermine national responses to the epidemic. Limited access to sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights in some countries also fuel the epidemic.

To fast track the end of the AIDS epidemic we must fast track gender equality. We know the critical steps that must be taken on the path to gender equality, and we must scale up and invest in what works for women and girls in the context of HIV and AIDS. This includes empowering women and girls, particularly those living with HIV, and advancing their leadership; eliminating barriers and constraints to women’s access to prevention, treatment and care services; eradicating gender-based violence; and ensuring adequate financing for women’s needs and priorities in the AIDS response.

At this critical juncture, as we embark on the global review of the Beijing Platform for Action, and as the nations of the world are coming together to define a new global development framework, it is particularly important to emphasize the human rights and needs of women and girls in the context of HIV and AIDS. It is clear that we can end the AIDS epidemic only if we work together to ensure that women can protect themselves from infection, overcome stigma, and gain greater access to treatment and care, as well as live free of violence, coercion, and discrimination.

On World AIDS Day, UN Women reaffirms its commitment to fast tracking gender equality, and calls for increased support and investment for women’s empowerment in the context of ending the AIDS epidemic. We ask you to join us in committing to this goal.