ZIMBABWE – Countries have been urged to put women and girls at the centre of efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
United Nations AIDS programmes (UNAIDS) executive director Michel Sidibe said it was important for countries as they commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence to prioritise women and girls.
This year’s commemorations are being held under the theme: From peace in the home to peace in the world: make education safe for all.
“AIDS-related deaths are increasing among adolescents and we are seeing increased violence against young women.
“Our call is to address the root cause-gender inequality, which can result in violence, lack of esteem, growing vulnerability for young women and girls to make empowered and informed decisions about their health and well-being,” he said.
AIDS is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age (15-4 years) and adolescent girls and young women are most affected by HIV.
Every year around 380 000 adolescent girls and young women are newly infected with HIV and in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women account for one in every four new HIV infections.
Sidibe added that in most regions, women who have experienced physical or sexual partner violence are 15 times more likely to acquire HIV compared to women who have not.
“While the experiences of violence faced by women living with HIV mirror those of women generally, living with HIV exposes women and girls to other forms of violence, including forced and coerced sterilisation because of their HIV-positive status,” he argued.
He reiterated that ending the AIDs epidemic will depend on a social justice agenda that demands equity in education, employment, political representation and access to justice and health, free from violence.
Sidibe said all countries should ensure there is engagement and empowerment of women as top priority to enable women and girls to live in a world free of inequalities and violence.