by Ebony Johnson
Women represent fifty-two percent of all people living with HIV in low and middle income countries worldwide. However, the numbers are even more staggering in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region shouldering the largest HIV burden, wherein young women represent 68% of people living with HIV between the ages of 15-24. Why you ask? Worldwide women and girls are extremely vulnerable to HIV. Gender inequity and power imbalance are reinforced through political, social, cultural, economic and legal structures.
Without commitments and investments to provide free education to all young women; we grow up without a positive trajectory to gain to be safe, stay healthy, secure fair and decent employment, have full rights and live a quality life.
Without sufficient education, skills or an enabling environment that values the role of young women or women overall, we are propelled into early marriage, survival sex, homelessness and unemployment; all factors that limit our agency to refuse sex, negotiate condoms or have autonomy over our bodies. Punitive laws, policies and harmful cultural norms compound our risk for HIV with the absence of protections against gender-based violence, rape or incest. As we just heard from our panelist from Algeria and the colleague from UNFPA, childhood marriage still remains a tremendous problem across the globe. Globally, this problem translates into 37,000 girls being married each day. Girls who are without the power to refuse. Today, in many parts of the world girls and young women are forced or coerced into arrange marriages to honor religious obligations, provide financial support for families or as part of obsolete and detrimental traditional practices such as Ukutwala. In the words of UNFA Executive Director, “Childhood marriage means and end to education for girls and damages a woman’s [life] potential. These issues are compounded for us young women as we are without the social and legal protections to leave or refuse these marriages, even wherein there is infidelity which increases our risk of HIV and STI’s, martial rape or violence. Additionally, we also face challenges in leaving when laws and policies leave us without the ability to own property, consent to reproductive health services (including HIV prevention, testing or care) or have economic stability.
- We, the UNAIDS NGO Delegation call on the UNAIDS Cosponsors, Secretariat and member states to continue to fund, implement, monitor and evaluate all of the recommendation of the UNAIDS Agenda for women and girls.
- We call on you to leverage the opportunities created by the Global Fund and other funding partners, to resource gender transformative HIV responses, for the health, wellbeing and empowerment of girls and young women.
- We request government to enact and enforce laws to increase the age of marriage
- We ask for strong focus on young women and girls; including those of us living with HIV and within key populations in all national planning; that is funding, implemented and monitored
Our lives matter, If they are important to you, please find and implement programs and policies that we me and all women and girls live healthy, safe and quality lives. Thank you