Statement: Rebuilding better together to end AIDS for women and girls

Statement by UN Women on World AIDS Day, 1 December


On this World AIDS Day we have good news to reflect on: according to the UNAIDS Global AIDS Update more women are on life-saving treatment than ever; and there has been steady progress, though still fragile, in reducing new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths among women in several regions. In recent encouraging news for HIV prevention, there is a long-acting injectable available that is adding another impactful option for women, potentially being 89 per cent more effective in preventing HIV among women in sub-Saharan Africa compared to daily tablets.

AIDS remains a critical threat for women of reproductive age, being one of the leading causes of death. This underlines the fact that access to sexual and reproductive health services is an essential, life-saving right. The majority of countries (78 out of 125 reporting to UNAIDS) still have laws that require parental consent for adolescents to obtain sexual and reproductive health services, hindering girls’ access to HIV prevention, treatment and care. One in three women living with HIV reported at least one form of discrimination related to their sexual and reproductive health within the past 12 months. And only 55 per cent of married or in-union women make their own decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health.

The results of this lack of knowledge and access are devastating. In 2019, around 4,500 adolescent girls and young women became infected with HIV every week in sub-Saharan Africa and only one third of young women and girls had comprehensive HIV knowledge. And in the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and Europe and Central Asia, new HIV infections among women continue to climb.

Women need HIV prevention methods that they can control and access. We must prioritize investments in the research to provide these, as well as in transforming unequal gender norms and promoting equality and the empowerment of communities. UN Women’s HeForShe approach in South Africa demonstrates how unequal and harmful beliefs and behaviours related to violence against women can be changed among both men and women, as well as ensuring that 62 per cent of them can access comprehensive HIV services.

The unequal distribution of progress made in reducing HIV infections and providing treatment has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted women and girls disproportionately and continues to threaten the hard won gains in gender equality. Yet those women and girls continue to make an indispensable contribution in the HIV response, providing critical care for their families and communities affected by HIV, and stepping forward as advocates and leaders in communities and in decision-making spaces. 

Now more than ever, there is a need to create, institutionalize and sustain spaces for women, particularly young women and girls, so they can be heard. These leaders of today need to be adequately resourced to continue their collective action, advocacy and leadership.

We are pleased to join forces with our sister agencies – UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNESCO – and with all adolescent girls and young women to demand quality secondary education for all girls in Africa via the new Education Plus initiative. Together we can ensure this generation of girls truly becomes ‘Generation Equality’.

COVID-19 has shown us the importance of accelerating commitments, from governments, private sector and civil society alike, to invest in gender equality, ending violence, supporting leadership and the full enjoyment of their human rights for all young women and girls, especially those affected by both coronavirus and HIV. Only then will we be able to rebuild better.