World Leaders Must Address Women’s Needs at IAC

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World Leaders Must Address Women’s Needs at IAC

Neha Sood

When will the world's leaders gathered at the International AIDS Conference realize that young women are a priority concern in stopping the HIV/AIDS pandemic?

I leave tomorrow for Mexico
City to attend the XVII
International AIDS Conference
and wonder: when will the world’s leaders realize that women, especially
young women, are a priority concern in stopping the HIV/AIDS pandemic?

Today, women account for six
out of every ten people living with HIV in Africa, the world’s most
affected region. According to a report
released yesterday by UNAIDS, nearly half of new HIV infections last
year in adults were in young people, acquired largely through heterosexual
sex. Globally, three
out of four young people living with HIV are female. Yet,
many of the world’s leaders and national governments have not recognized women’s and young
people’s rights to sexuality education, to be free from violence and
coercion, and negotiate safer sex, all of which are crucial to preventing
new HIV infections.

Young women
are contracting HIV every day because they do not have the knowledge
and tools to protect themselves. A report by the UN Secretary General’s office this year, found that as of 2007
36 percent of young women can correctly identify ways of preventing
transmission and reject the major misconceptions about HIV transmission.
This is inexcusable.

I call on all the attendees
of next week’s AIDS conference to ask yourself: are we
really doing everything we can to empower the three billion
women who are HIV-negative to stay negative? Do we recognize
the rights of the 15 million women living with HIV to affordable and
accessible counseling and testing, to treatment and care, and to live
their lives with respect and dignity?

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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I stand with a group of activists
and organizations known as With Women Worldwide to End HIV/AIDS in asking for a stronger commitment
from all those attending AIDS 2008 to enable women and girls to protect
themselves against infection. We ask you to:

  • Secure leadership
    that is strong on the health and rights of women and young people
    In the next year, UNAIDS will recruit an Executive Director, new posts
    on gender will be filled in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis
    and Malaria, and the next U.S. President will appoint key AIDS officials. 
    It is essential that such leadership has requisite expertise in achieving
    gender equality, working with civil society, including women and young
    people, and delivering prevention, care and treatment for women and
    girls.  Policies and programs will be more effective if they involve
    women and young people, particularly those living with HIV, meaningfully
    in all stages of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
  • Support
    sexual and reproductive rights and health as essential to HIV/AIDS responses

    For girls and women HIV infection is a sexual and reproductive rights
    and health issue and, as such, requires increased access to male and,
    especially, female condoms; improving young people’s access to services,
    through campaigns reaching young people, sensitizing health care personnel,
    and providing comprehensive, affordable and confidential services; and
    counseling and other interventions that promote mutual responsibility
    between partners for prevention and for care and support of those living
    with HIV/AIDS.
  • Invest more in
    prevention, particularly for girls and women
    .  More progress
    is needed on:

    • comprehensive sexuality
      education for all children and young people, beginning before they are
      sexually active, that promotes gender equality and human rights;
    • research on more
      effective, attractive and affordable female condoms, microbicides, pre-exposure
      prophylaxis, and vaccines (for HIV, HPV and Hepatitis B);
    • interventions aimed
      at factors that make girls and women vulnerable, including prevention
      and mitigation of violence, discrimination and stigma, particularly
      against girls and women;
    • promotion of equal
      opportunity for education, employment and livelihoods, opportunities,
      properly and inheritance rights, prevention of harmful practices, violations
      of human rights such as child marriage, female genital cutting.
  • Collect better
    .  Lack of data by sex and by age (especially for subgroups
    among 15-24-year-olds) seriously hampers planning.  Donors should
    provide adequate resources to evaluate the efficacy of interventions
    for women in reducing HIV incidence and those that address women’s

With Women Worldwide: A Compact
to End HIV and AIDS

is supported by more than 300 organizations worldwide.

The With Women Worldwide Compact is
an action agenda designed to compel the policy changes needed to prevent
increasing HIV infections in women and young people, and ensure their
equitable access to treatment, care, and support. The Compact was developed
at a global meeting convened by the
International Women’s Health

(IWHC) in 2005, which brought together 28 women from seven constituencies.

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