Putting women’s and girls’ rights at the centre

Lydia Mungherera, Founder and CEO of Mama’s Club, Uganda

For me, the biggest lesson learned in the AIDS response from the past 15 years is that if we keep neglecting the social dynamics that relate to the epidemic, especially those that pose barriers for women and girls, such as gender-based violence and harmful gender norms, we will keep falling short in tackling the root causes of the epidemic.

HIV is not only a health-related issue, it cuts across almost every aspect of a person’s life and in different ways depending on where they live, how old they are, what gender identity or sexual orientation they have and how much income their households generate. For women, and girls in particular, these dynamics play an important role in terms of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with HIV, including gender-based violence and harmful gender norms, discrimination and oppression. HIV is a matter of social justice.

In the face of an epidemic entrenched so deeply in social exclusion, violence and injustice, the AIDS response must keep striving for inclusiveness, respect for human rights — including women’s and girls’ rights—and gender equality. To achieve this we need strong political commitment and a cohesive women’s movement.

My greatest hope is that the future holds a world where every woman and girl, everywhere, is free to decide on her own life and is empowered to succeed, free from gender-based violence and harmful gender norms, regardless of her age, gender identity, sexual orientation, work and any other issues that have divided humanity for so long. Only then will we see the end of the AIDS epidemic.