"We can get to ZERO!” – UN Women Executive Director

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UNAIDS special event on HIV and gender equality as part of the post-2015 agenda, New York, 11 March 2014

Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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Good Evening,

UNAIDS Executive Director Sidibe,

Ministers Lithur, Vallaud-Belkacem,

Your Royal Highness Princess Mary,

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests and Friends,

I am very happy to be speaking with you today at such an important event.

UN Women is the newest member of UNAIDS. The role of women in the HIV/AIDS response remains critical.

We believe that the single most important strategy in dealing with this epidemic is empowering women and guaranteeing their rights. So that they can protect themselves from infection, overcome stigma, and gain access to treatment and care.

I am proud of UN Women’s engagement with the Every Woman Every Child movement. And I am proud of our membership of the H4+ initiative.

Under this banner we are now advising partners around the world, and implementing programmes in 17 countries.

I have said this many times already this week: As we accelerate our achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and agree on the post-2015 agenda,

we must build on the lessons learnt from the past 15 years.

MDG 3 signaled that gender equality is a global priority.

But the MDG targets have not addressed many barriers holding women and girls back from reaching their potential. To achieve greater progress, we must tackle structural inequality.

With one in three women worldwide experiencing gender-based violence, we must forcefully address violence against women.

We must address women’s unequal access to productive assets and resources, such as land and finance.

And we must address unequal decision-making. Women should be able to make their own decisions and be equally represented in decision-making positions.

Gender equality is mandatory if we are to end extreme poverty, inequality, and combat HIV and AIDS.

As we meet: 
  • 50 young women are newly infected every hour. 
  •  Young women have HIV infection rates twice as high as young men. 
  • And 76 per cent of young people aged 15-24 living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are female.

In all regions, stigma, discrimination and violence have a disproportionate impact on women and girls. The reason for this is no secret -- it is the gender inequality in every sphere of life, in every region of the world.

Women and girls are responsible for the vast majority of unpaid care work, including caring for those living with HIV. This can make it impossible for them to complete an education or seek employment.

Laws and customs can make life even harder for affected women.

One UN Women programme illustrates for me how a strong gender equality focus can have a real impact. It operates in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, with the support of the Canadian Government.

We have worked with grass-roots organizations to educate over 20,000 community members, justice and legal service providers on women’s property and inheritance rights. As a result, thousands of women and children have secured their rights and are able to lead more healthy and productive lives.

We are also working to empower young women because infection rates soar between the ages of 17 and 24.

These young women are often infected by men who are an average of five years older, and are more powerful in the relationship.

But studies show that with confidence, knowledge and support, young women can protect themselves and their communities from infection.

I cannot overstate this:

Universal access to quality, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights is essential throughout women’s lives.

It is essential to development. It is essential to preventing and treating HIV and AIDS.

And also essential is women’s participation in the AIDS response. The lived experiences of those directly affected must be central to policymaking.

That is why UN Women works with HIV-positive women’s groups and unpaid caregivers to support advocacy, community mobilization and leadership.

To better combat HIV and AIDS, women’s leadership should be extended and fully financed.

We also need better data that is disaggregated by sex and age. This will help us to focus resource allocation, medical research, and policy.

And to address women and HIV and AIDS, we need men and boys.

That is why UN Women launched the HeForShe campaign on International Women’s Day. And we have already reached more than 19 million people on social media!

It is a platform for men and boys to take and stand and speak out for women’s rights, and I encourage all men to participate! Be on the right side of history!

And let me end with this: I fully agree with UNAIDS that we can get to ZERO!

We can end new infections and it depends on you and me and all people.

If you are positive, be responsible and do everything you can to NOT infect another person. We know the right thing to do.

If you are negative, stay negative, which means do everything to stay negative.

And we can get to ZERO!

Thanks and I look forward to our discussion.

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