Gaps, challenges and actions for the future for women and girls in the AIDS response

5 gaps and challenges we face today:

1. Limited progress on gender equality and reducing violence

Although new HIV infections and deaths among women have decreased over the past 15 years, much of the progress can be attributed to unprecedented efforts to enhance access to antenatal care among pregnant women. The underlying determinants of access to services, such as gender inequalities and gender-based violence, which jeopardize the sustainability of the HIV response, still persist today. In addition, women’s needs are still to be effectively addressed in the HIV response, outside a context of maternal health, and including women in all their diversity

2. Political commitment on sexual and reproductive health and rights is not secure

To break the cycle of marginalization, women’s and girls’ rights which includes their sexual and reproductive health and rights, must be recognized, respected, protected and promoted.

3. Support for female controlled interventions needs to be increased

Female controlled interventions can protect women’s health and avoid the risk of HIV infection, AIDS-related deaths and violence. They can also contribute to women’s and girls’ empowerment, by increasing their agency to decide upon their own bodies, health and sexuality.

4. Entry points to reach women and girls are limited

Success of the HIV response among women and girls could be greatly attributed to the unprecedented efforts for the past 15 years, to enhance access to antenatal care for pregnant women, together with focused interventions among female sex workers. However, these programmes have not included women in all their diversity, nor have they taken into account the underlying determinants that increase women’s and girls’ risks and vulnerabilities to HIV. Women’s health has recurrently been addressed in the context of pregnancy, leaving out the specific needs of adolescent girls and young women who are not pregnant. In addition, the specific needs of women and girls in all their diversity have not been effectively addressed, taking into account differences such as age, sexual orientation, gender identity and work.

5. Programmatic interventions that work need to be scaled up

Programmatic interventions, such as cash transfers and community-led interventions to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, which have proven to work and have multiple benefits, including reduced HIV incidence among women and girls, are not rolled out to a national scale.

5 actions for the future:

1. Renew political commitment

Political agreements need to hold firm on putting women’s gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment at the centre of the AIDS response, and to translate these commitments into concrete strategies that aim to fulfil women’s rights.

2. Close the funding gap

Rebuild the global partnership with the women’s movement and AIDS movement, and secure the platform for advocacy, political and social mobilization, leveraging national level action for gender equality and HIV. This platform must also advocate for the closing of the funding gap for women’s organizations, ensuring that investments for gender equality, women’s empowerment and HIV are effectively reaching those most affected, and that women’s organizations have a lead role in programme design and implementation.

3. Revitalize the platform for advocacy for women and HIV

The platforms for global advocacy for women and girls in the AIDS response have ended, and nothing has replaced them. Global political commitments enshrined in Cairo and Beijing, and through various declarations of commitment to the AIDS response, were followed by concrete programmatic actions outlined in joint initiatives such as the UNAIDS Agenda for accelerated country action for women, girls, gender equality and HIV. With the end of the Agenda, there is a need for a new platform to voice the needs of women and girls, and the advancement of gender equality in the AIDS response contributing towards the sustainable development goals framework. These spaces are necessary to leverage political commitment and guide country-level action for transformative programmes.

4. Enhance the availability of evidence

Comprehensive evidence that takes into account the different dimensions of gender inequalities, and the interlinkages with HIV, are key for advocacy and to inform national programming processes. Evidence that clearly reflects the various challenges faced by women and girls to access services, ensures that programmes respond to the root causes of inequalities and contribute to the sustainability of the HIV response. Data must also be routinely disaggregated by age and sex.

5. Ensure responsive interventions

Women are not a homogenous population, and as such require specific programmes that take into account the age, sexual orientation, gender identity, place of residence, work, and all other factors that contribute to the wide diversity among women. Focusing the HIV response solely on women in the context of pregnancy and birth, or shaping programmes aimed at behaviour change without taking into account women’s and girls’ lack of agency, limits the scope and effectiveness of the response and fail to reach women from discriminated and marginalized groups such as sex workers and transgender women.

How AIDS changed everything — MDG 6: 15 years, 15 lesson of hope from the AIDS response celebrates the milestone achievement of 15 million people on antiretroviral treatment — an accomplishment deemed impossible when the MDGs were established 15 years ago.

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Explore the first exhibition at The White Table Gallery which tells the story of how ‘things’ can have special meanings in the AIDS response.

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