International Women’s Day: Addressing HIV in women and girls – the UK’s role

Fionnuala Murphy
hiv 300x225 International Women’s Day: Addressing HIV in women and girls   the UKs role

(Getty Images)

Today is International Women’s Day and, to mark the occasion, the Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening gave an address outlining the UK government’s focus on girls’ and women’s rights. Speaking at an event hosted by the Gender and Development Network, Justine Greening outlined the three core components of the Department For International Development’s work to promote equality for women and girls – choice, control and voice.

The Department for International Development (DFID) pledges to give girls and women greater choice by increasing their access to education and family planning. The DFID Girls Education Challenge will get an extra million girls into school by 2016 while DFID funding will deliver three million contraceptive implants and 17 million female condoms, an investment which Greening declared “will help avert around 2.6 million unintended pregnancies, prevent the deaths of more than 4,500 women during pregnancy, and avoid almost 65,000 infant deaths.”

Scaling up access to female condoms will also vitally give women and girls greater power to negotiate safer sex and protect themselves from HIV infection. Female condoms are currently the only method of preventing HIV infection that is female-initiated. They make broaching the subject of safe sex easier for women and empower them to take control of their health, but they are still out of reach for most. DFID’s announcement is so important for this reason, but so are wider efforts to reach women and girls who are at risk of or living with HIV.

AIDS is one of the leading causes of death among women of reproductive age, and discrimination and violence against women are key drivers of  the HIV pandemic. HIV can also exacerbate violations of women’s rights. When they disclose a positive diagnosis, women are often blamed and can face mistreatment from health workers, attacks from their partner and family and even eviction from their homes.

In her International Women’s Day speech, Greening emphasised that women and girls must be able to control their own lives, referring to the pandemic of violence against women and girls and to routine violations of women’s rights. Domestic abuse, rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and denial of women’s sexual and reproductive rights are all linked to the increase in HIV infections among women in every region of the world, and to the fact that in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV prevalence relates in women aged 15 to 24 are double those among men and boys of the same age.

According to Greening, “injustice is woven into and across the fabric of our societies and economies, in legal frameworks, in how institutions run and in governments. And this injustice reinforces the lack of power that girls and women then have within their households, communities, societies.”  In turn, this lack of power, alongside economic dependence on men, keeps women subordinate and makes them uniquely vulnerable to HIV.

DFID’s position paper HIV, Towards Zero Infections commits to significantly reducing HIV infections among women and girls and other vulnerable groups at higher risk of infection, and to push for policy change that will empower women. Towards Zero Infections will be reviewed later this year presenting an opportunity to examine whether DFID’s bilateral programmes and international advocacy on HIV have delivered.

DFID is also undertaking a review of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which by the end of last year had provided 4.2 million people with life saving antiretroviral medicines and had reached 1.7 million HIV positive pregnant women with treatment to prevent transmission to their babies.  Behind these inspirational figures are millions of women, children and men whose lives have been saved, but there is still much more to do.

The Global Fund is due to be replenished later this year, and the UK government must make a bold contribution and encourage other governments to do the same.  Beyond replenishment, DFID must also work with the Global Fund to scale up its work to address the root causes of HIV among women and girls.

At the moment, a woman is newly infected with HIV every minute of the day. If we are serious about bringing about an end to AIDS, we need to listen to the voices of women and girls who are living with and affected by HIV. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance works in more than 30 countries, with women and other groups who are at high risk of HIV. They are standing up for their rights and are doing everything that they can to get to zero new infections and to ensure that all people living with HIV remain healthy. This International Women’s Day, and every day, we must stand beside them.

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  • harleymc

    “Female condoms are currently the only method of preventing HIV infection that is female-initiated.”
    This is counterfactual.

    This ignores PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), PEP (Post exposure prophylaxis), sero-sorting, changes in sexual practices, not breast feeding and treatment as prevention.

    Talk to your doctor, arm yourself with knowlege.

    You could save your own life. You could save your partner’s life. You could save your baby’s life.

  • mercury51

    thy no men’s day?

  • mercury51

    or don’t hang out with queers and junkies.

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