Women’s leadership makes a difference every day
The contribution of women and girls, particularly those living with HIV, is indispensable in the HIV response at the community level. Women and girls provide critical care for family and community members living with HIV, and help ensure they start and stay on treatment. This is admirable—but problematic when it contributes further to the burden of unpaid care work borne by women and girls—which is already three times that of men. This care work at the community level must be fully recognized, valued and re-distributed equally within the household so that women can have more opportunities to choose what they do with their lives.
Women are the majority (52 per cent) of those living with HIV. They need access to HIV prevention, treatment and care at the community level. They are demanding a role in decision-making that affects their lives, advocating for their priorities to be part of HIV strategies, and leading grassroots-level work to enable women and girls living with and affected by HIV to know and assert their rights. In particular, young women and adolescent girls’ leadership and engagement in the design, implementation and monitoring of HIV programmes and policies is key to ensure their needs are prioritized. We must create and institutionalize spaces where they can voice their priorities and be heard, and adequately resource networks of women living with HIV to sustain their efforts and collective action.
For women living with HIV, communities can provide vital support, but also can be a source of stigmatization and discrimination. This can put women and girls at greater risk for HIV and creates barriers to access to HIV services. One in three women living with HIV reported discrimination related to their sexual and reproductive health in a 2016 survey. Gender inequality and harmful gender norms can perpetuate stigma and discrimination, leading to rejection, economic insecurity and violence from partners, family and community. Only three in every ten adolescent girls and young women currently have comprehensive and accurate knowledge of HIV.
As a co-convener on the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination, UN Women calls upon governments to reform discriminatory laws that put women and girls at risk of HIV and that limit their access to life-saving treatment, and to guarantee the rights of women and girls to HIV services that are free of violence and discrimination.
As we prepare to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action in 2020 and to promote a new Generation Equality, we will drive action to give visibility and value to the invisible work women do in communities and households—and to create spaces for women living with and affected by HIV in all their diversity to take on leadership roles in communities and to be supported as they do so.
This World AIDS Day, to all the women and girls in communities, we say: we hear you, we see you, and we thank you!