Gathering together as a global community of diverse stakeholders – including academics, practitioners, civil society, policymakers, multilaterals, journalists, youth, private sector corporations, and people living with HIV – we must highlight the critical role of women, girls and gender equality in turning back the tide on HIV.
Women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of ill health. Globally, AIDS is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age, and women and girls represent 60% of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Besides being a public health epidemic, HIV/AIDS is also a social issue that impacts men and women differently, and it’s an issue linked with and affected by gender inequality.
Gender-based violence, for example, itself is a global epidemic. It fosters the spread of HIV by limiting one’s ability to negotiate safe sexual practices, disclose HIV status, and access services. Studies indicate that women who have experienced violence may be up to three times more likely to contract HIV than those who have not.
Our success in fighting this epidemic is tied to our ability to recognize and respond to the reality of gender disparities.
PEPFAR’s work on addressing gender inequality is an exemplary effort to respond to some of the most serious health needs of women and girls. I applaud PEPFAR’s dedication to addressing the links between gender-based violence and HIV, as well as PEPFAR’s investments in this arena.
My office and PEPFAR have recently launched a joint initiative to support civil society organizations which are working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, as well as HIV prevention, treatment and care. Through this partnership, we will provide over $4.6 million in small grants to grassroots organizations in countries with a PEPFAR presence, leveraging our respective platforms in the field and creating links to address the drivers of both violence and HIV.
Without integrating a gender lens through our HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs, we will fall short in reaching our global targets in HIV prevention, treatment, and care—and achieving President Obama’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation.
Men and boys must also be a part of the solution. To advance women’s rights, to turn the tide against both HIV and violence, we must engage all partners.
Time and time again, Secretary Clinton makes the case that improving the health of women and girls improves health outcomes for their families, their communities, and creates more opportunities for economic growth and prosperity. After all, investing in the health of women and girls is not only the right thing to do; it is also the smartest investment we can make.
I wish you all the best of luck.