Feature story

UNAIDS and UN Women: Taking the women and girls HIV response to the next level

28 February 2011

Michele Bachelet, UN Women’s Executive Director speaks during the panel discussion on "Taking the Women and Girls Centred HIV Response to the Next Level - Advancing Gender Equality" at UN Headquarters, NYC on 25 February 2011.
Credit: UNAIDS/B. Hamilton

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the AIDS epidemic. It is estimated that 51% of the people living with HIV worldwide are female, and in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean this figure is close to 60%. HIV is now the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.

What can and must be done to challenge this stark situation? The 55th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), currently taking place in New York, provided a valuable forum for UNAIDS and UN Women to find answers and set strategic directions.

On 25 February a panel discussion, jointly moderated by Michele Bachelet, UN Women’s Executive Director and Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, examined how to capitalise on political commitment to accelerate HIV responses which place women and girls at their very centre. A key focus was the urgent need to increase the involvement of women and girls living with HIV in the AIDS response, to invest in them as agents of change.

Eminent panellists included, HE Thokozani Khupe, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe; HE Commissioner Bience Gawanas, the African Union’s Commissioner for Social Affairs and Anandi Yuvraj of the International Community of Women Living with HIV.  

This interactive session used the Agenda for Women and Girls [1] as a basis for the discussions and built on the conclusions from an earlier High Level Consultation on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls living with HIV which took place on 24 February.

The UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls, launched in March 2010 at the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, was developed through a highly consultative process with representatives from governments, women living with HIV, women’s groups and the United Nations family including UNIFEM (now part of UN Women). Since then 56 countries have rolled-out the Agenda with partners from these same diverse constituencies.

The Agenda has given legitimacy to women and girl-related issues, including gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health services, previously downplayed and neglected in national HIV platforms. The panel emphasized the fact that the call to action has already prompted many countries to implement strategic interventions, such ’know your rights/know your laws’ programmes.

Participants also explored exactly how the newly established organization UN Women presents a major opportunity to promote greater gender equality and empower women and girls to make free and informed decisions about their lives and their health. 

[1] UNAIDS Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women and Girls, Gender Equality and HIV