We’ve got the power: Women, adolescent girls and the HIV response

We've got the power: Women, adolescent girls and the HIV response

Twenty-five years ago, governments took the historic step of adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, to this day the most comprehensive and progressive global policy road map for fulfilling the human rights of women and girls and achieving gender equality.

Progress has been made in key areas. More girls are in school and gender gaps in primary school are closing globally; in some countries, there are more women involved in political leadership; and other countries have worked to protect women’s rights in legislation. Medical breakthroughs and the activism of women and communities have saved and improved the lives of millions living with and affected by HIV. We have scaled up HIV treatment so that by 2019, there were over 24 million people on treatment, including more than 13 million women aged 15 years and over.

But no country has achieved gender equality to date.

Women still have far fewer economic opportunities than men and shoulder most unpaid care and domestic work. Gender-based discrimination and violence are still far too common throughout our societies.

This report shows how the HIV epidemic holds a mirror up to these inequalities and injustices, and how the gaps in rights and services for women and girls are exacerbating the epidemic. AIDS-related illnesses are the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally; every week 6000 adolescent girls and young women around the world are acquiring HIV—most of them in Africa; and women from key populations most impacted by the epidemic are between five to 19 times more likely to be living with HIV than other adult women.

This is unacceptable, it is avoidable and it must end.

Women and adolescent girls are demanding their rights. Governments must act on those demands by providing the resources and services to protect their rights and properly respond to their needs and perspectives. In practice, this means providing all girls with at least quality secondary education, as well as comprehensive sexuality education for all, holistic and dignified care for women and girls, and decent employment and livelihood opportunities. It also means ending violence against women and girls, and safeguarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights—which cut across every aspect of their lives. Removing discriminatory and punitive laws that stigmatize women and girls— and ensuring equality before the law—is fundamental. The empowerment of women and girls and the fulfilment of their human rights is crucial. This must be a decade of acceleration towards reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including ending the HIV epidemic.

No more excuses. We need bold feminist-led action to end gender inequities, confront taboos around women’s sexuality and stop denying women their basic freedoms and autonomy regarding their own bodies and life choices.

UNAIDS is ready to work with governments, civil society, communities and other partners to step up the pace of delivery and meet the promises that were made to women and girls 25 years ago.

This is Generation Equality! Together, we’ve got the power!

Winnie Byanyima

UNAIDS Executive Director