Women and girls around the world continue to be disproportionately affected by sexual and reproductive health issues compared to men and boys. In Eastern and Southern Africa, data shows that 11 200 000 million women (15+) are living with HIV compared to 7 200 000 men. New HIV infections among young women (15–24) and adolescent girls (10–19) indicate a higher risk of HIV infection. In 2017, 200 000 young women were infected with HIV compared to 89 000 men, while 96 000 adolescent girls were infected with HIV compared to 25 000 adolescent boys.
To this end, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) organized a side event on the implementation of the 2016 Commission on Status of Women 60/2 (CSW 60/2) Resolution on Women, the Girl Child and HIV on the side lines of the ongoing 63rd CSW in New York. This resolution and the 2016 Political Declaration on Ending AIDS demonstrates that strong political will exists to address the causes of high levels of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women.
Engaging across sectors, CSW Resolution 60/2 calls on countries to take action to effectively address challenges such as access to education, including comprehensive sexuality education; laws, policies and strategies to prevent and eliminate gender-based violence; promotion of economic opportunities for women and girls; and the engagement of men and boys in the AIDS response.
“As SADC Member States we are committed to accelerate efforts to ensure that all girls and women have access to information and services that will help them to avoid HIV infection,” said Doreen Sioka, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Namibia. To this end, SADC has agreed on ambitious HIV prevention targets.
Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Women, South Africa, spoke of the need to address the intersections between gender-based violence and HIV. “In South Africa we are opening difficult conversations with men on gender-based violence,” she stated.
Rouzeh Eghtessadi, from the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Services and Midred Mushunj, from the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) Africa Trust, addressed the critical issue of integrating SRHR and HIV services. Evidence shows that integration is important not only to an overburdened health system but also for women and girls to access services more efficiently. SADC has developed and endorsed a progressive SRHR strategy with the participation of partners and civil society, including to encourage governments to implement agreements and instruments that they have endorsed.
Participants at the meeting noted the importance of engaging men and boys to address gender-based violence. “Society often unfairly puts the burden and responsibility to address gender-based violence on girls and women. In many cases society will ask why women do not leave an abusive relationship. There is a need to transform that question and ask why perpetrators of gender-based violence do not stop, ” said Bafana Khumalo of Sonke Gender Justice.
The event ended with a commitment from SADC to continue building on the momentum created and to develop a comprehensive report on implementation of the CSW 60/2 resolution.