International Women’s Day 2004 Focuses on Impact of HIV/AIDS Pandemic on WomenInternational Women's Day 2004 -- which is Monday, March 8 -- focuses on "women and girls and HIV/AIDS" and serves as a day "both to celebrate women and to raise awareness about their situation," according to UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Kathleen Cravero, Xinhuanet/China View reports. Cravero said that women and girls are the "weakest link" in the global fight against HIV/AIDS because of their "less-advantaged economic and cultural position in the society," according to Xinhuanet/China View. Currently, there are 20 million women living with HIV/AIDS worldwide; 58% of the people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and 30% of the HIV-positive individuals in the Mekong region of Asia are women. Cravero said that there is a "paradox of low risk but high vulnerability, which means, for most women, they don't engage in risky behaviors, they're married and have one partner, but their partner might have" other partners. She added that the "lack of attention to women's rights is fueling the HIV epidemic" worldwide (Xinhuanet/China View, 3/8). Cravero on Monday addressed the Mekong Leaders' Consultative Meeting on Women and AIDS, the first initiative of the newly formed Mekong Coalition on Women and AIDS, a "regional offshoot" of the Global Coalition of Women and AIDS, which was launched in London on Feb. 2, according to a UNAIDS release (UNAIDS release , 3/8).
To mark the day, the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, in collaboration with the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, are hosting an event at U.N. headquarters in New York City. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to discuss the global situation of women and HIV/AIDS; World Health Organization Director-General Jong-Wook Lee plans to discuss improving access to antiretroviral treatment; Queen Noor of Jordan is scheduled to speak about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women in the Middle East; International Organization for Migration Deputy Director-General Ndioro Ndiaye is scheduled to talk about how migration and trafficking affect the spread of HIV/AIDS; UNAIDS' Noerine Kaleeba is scheduled to discuss the importance of community support for people living with HIV/AIDS; and EngenderHealth South Africa Program Manager Dean Peacock is scheduled to focus on the role of men and boys in preventing violence against women and the spread of HIV. A live webcast of the event will be available online at un.org/events/women/iwd/2004/ (International Women's Day Web site, 3/8).
'Positive, Concrete Change'
Annan said that "society pays many times over the deadly price of the impact on women of AIDS." He added, "Poor women are becoming even less economically secure as a result of AIDS, often deprived of rights to housing, property or inheritance or even adequate health services. In rural areas, AIDS has caused the collapse of coping systems that for centuries have helped women to feed their families during times of drought and famine -- leading in turn to family break-ups, migration and yet greater risk of HIV infection." Annan concluded that "[w]hat is needed is positive, concrete change that will give more power and confidence to women and girls, and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society" (Secretary General's message, 3/8). Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, said that although women 10 years ago "were at the periphery of the epidemic, ... [t]oday they are its epicenter." She added that the impact of the epidemic is "particularly alarming" for young women between the ages of 15 and 24, who are twice as likely to be HIV-positive than their male counterparts. Heyzer said, "The social impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls is greater -- they are the ones who assume the burden of care when family members are affected by the disease, putting severe constraints on their access to education, employment, food cultivation and often treatment" (UNIFEM release, 3/4). UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said, "Women are disproportionately vulnerable to HIV," adding, "Only too often, women -- and particularly young girls -- are unable to protect themselves from unsafe sex because they don't have the information or confidence to do so."
The World Young Women's Christian Association and UNAIDS in Geneva to mark International Women's Day on Monday premiered a 52-minute film, titled "Women Are," which features women describing the "hardships they face in the light of the growing AIDS threat," according to a UNAIDS release. The movie, which was produced by Mondofragilis for the World YWCA and UNAIDS, was filmed during December 2003 and January 2004 (UNAIDS release , 3/8). The film features Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World YWCA, Cravero and actress Emma Thompson, a member of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (Mondofragilis Web site, 3/8). Kanyoro said, "The call to empower women is not new, but AIDS makes it more urgent. The film premiered today brings to life not only the deeply rooted injustices and discrimination faced by women, but provides hope for the millions of women out there who feel disempowered and vulnerable. It is a wake-up call for women to take action to stem the tide of AIDS" (UNAIDS release , 3/8).
International Women's Day is a "time to highlight the situation in which women live, and the AIDS crisis demands innovative efforts to change them for the better," Cravero and Janet Fleischman, chair of the gender committee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' HIV/AIDS Task Force, write in a Boston Globe opinion piece. Cravero and Fleischman say that although the Bush administration's five-year, $15 million global AIDS initiative "recognizes the urgent situation of women and girls, ... much more is needed to translate this into action on the ground." The United States will have to "support proactive strategies to make women and girls a focal point for prevention and treatment," according to Cravero and Fleischman, who add, "That women's subordinate status fuels the epidemic in acutely affected countries is increasingly accepted: the challenge now is to initiate innovative strategies that couple this knowledge with available resources as part of a comprehensive response." Cravero and Fleischman call for "logical programming decisions," including:
- Designing treatment programs that take into consideration the obstacles faced by women and girls;
- Training health care workers, law enforcement and judicial personnel to recognize "the signs of gender-based violence;"
- Creating environments in which women can "safely seek information, testing and treatment;"
- Making condoms "accessible, affordable and acceptable;"
- Expanding prevention programs beyond the "ABC" approach of abstinence, be faithful, use condoms;
- Supporting legislative and judicial reform to repeal laws that violate women's rights;
- Creating "gender advisory groups" in the target countries; and
- Increasing support for nongovernmental organizations that "work to reduce women and girls' vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and expand community mobilization."
Cravero and Fleischman conclude, "This is a critical moment for the United States and its international partners to develop proactive strategies that enable women and girls to have meaningful access to HIV prevention and treatment," adding, "The point is to give them what they need to save themselves: resources, education, jobs, access to HIV treatment, legal support and real options to live safely and productively" (Cravero/Fleischman, Boston Globe, 3/8). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.