Bold commitments to achieve gender equality adopted in the UN's Political Declaration on Ending AIDS
Date: Tuesday, June 14, 2016
The UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS held from 8 to 10 June at the UN headquarters in New York adopted an ambitious Political Declaration, committing to invest in gender equality and the empowerment of women, including young women and adolescent girls, to end the AIDS epidemic.
A panel entitled “Leaving no one behind: ending stigma and discrimination through social justice and inclusive societies,” held on 9 June, focused on tackling stigma and gender inequality that surrounds the conversation on HIV/AIDS. The panel featured world leaders and human rights activists working to improve health care, education on HIV and inclusive laws and policies. The Panellists emphasized that many voices are continuously omitted from the conversation on HIV/AIDS due to policies that discriminate against these groups.
Representing UN Women, Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “Gender inequality remains the most pervasive form of inequality around the world. Women and girls face extraordinary, and often intersecting, forms of discrimination. This is especially true for women living with HIV, migrants and refugee women, adolescent girls, women who use drugs or are sex workers, and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and men. This is why in our work we must always aim to reach the last woman.”
Panellists stressed that inequality continues to put many young women and girls at a greater risk of contracting HIV. Globally, only 3 in 10 adolescent girls and young women have accurate information about HIV. Young women and girls also lack access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Another event on 10 June, entitled #WhatWomenWant, stressed the need to involve more young women in programmes and noted that gender inequality hurts women with HIV, making them less likely to seek treatment to avoid dealing with stigma.
“Women want to separate sex from sin,” said Dame Carol Kidu, a former parliamentarian from Papua New Guinea, while reinforcing the importance of strengthening women’s leadership. “I was the one woman in a Parliament of 111 for 10 years. People thought I had a lot of power, and I never felt so powerless in my life. … I had to learn how to trade that power into influence.”
The breakfast meeting convened by ATHENA—a network of global members focused on gender equality and the HIV response—with support from UNAIDS, UN Women and other partners, focused on how to eradicate the violence and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, while emphasizing the need to invest in women and girls.
Moderator Teresia Otieno from ATHENA, stressed that the conversation needs to include the voices of more women and girls: “We said ‘we got to reach more’. How are we going to get the girls? How are we going to get the girls in the village? How are we going to get the women in the factories? How are we going to reach those who haven't even been brought in the conversation? How are we going to take it from sky-high SDGs and HLM [High-Level Meeting] and negotiators and make it real and practical and as simple as we are sitting here right now?”
Others stressed that political will is key to strengthening the AIDS response: “Holding governments accountable for these commitments that they make is absolutely essential,” said Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS. “To do that, we need the partnership of all....We're all in this together, we've got to have an approach that cuts across all of the disciplines in the UN and make sure we are all united on it.”
Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasized that men must be targeted as partners: “They're not coming to rescue us, let's make that very clear. They’re rescuing themselves. This mess that the patriarchy has put us in is just as bad for them as it is for women and girls.”
In closing remarks, Jacquelyne Alesi, Director of the Uganda Network of Young People addressed all participants, asking them to make commitments and spread awareness, but to never forget the end goal: “What do women want? Rights!” she said.
The Political Declaration adopted at the High-Level Meeting commits to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a priority in efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and calls on Member States to invest in gender-responsive approaches to protect and promote the human rights of women. Among key priorities, the Declaration includes commitments to ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services, and addressing intersections of violence against women, harmful practices and HIV. It sets a target to reduce new HIV infections among young women and adolescent girls, and recognizes the vital importance of women’s leadership and engagement in the AIDS response.
 UNAIDS, (2015). World AIDS Day 2015 report, On the Fast-Track to end AIDS by 2030: Focus on Location and Population, p. 75.