UN launches plan to combat spread of HIV among women and girls

02 Mar 2010


Photo: UNAIDS/B. Hamilton
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the
high-level panel in NY.
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark joined a high-level panel in New York to launch a five-year action plan by UNAIDS to address gender inequalities and human rights violations that put women and girls at risk of HIV infection. The panel unveiled the plan during the 54th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

“We have to see the promotion of women’s rights as intricately, intimately and intrinsically linked with combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Ms. Clark said. “If we can’t deal with this fundamental issue of the status of women, how do we effectively combat the spread of this epidemic?” 

UNDP has been integral to the development of the Agenda for Action, formally known as the “Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV (2010-2014).”  The plan was developed in response to the persistent gender inequality and human rights violations that continue to fuel the spread of HIV.

AIDS is the leading cause of death  among women of reproductive age (15-49) worldwide. Globally, about half of all people living with HIV are female.  In Southern Africa, where 60% of people living with HIV are women, HIV prevalence among young women aged 15-24 years is on average about three times higher than among men of the same age. 

Violence against women also increases their risk of exposure to HIV.  Up to 70% of women worldwide encounter violence in their lifetime – in South Africa a woman is raped every minute. Experiencing violence hampers women’s ability to negotiate safe sex.

UNAIDS has identified violence against women as one of its priority areas to address. “Violence against women is unacceptable and must not be tolerated,” said Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS.


Photo: UNAIDS/B.HamiltonMichel Sidibe,
Executive Director of UNAIDS and
singer Annie Lenox.
The Agenda for Action outlines the need to understand and respond to the particular effects of the HIV epidemic on women and girls and translate political commitments into scaled-up action. It calls on the UN system to support governments, civil society and development partners in reinforcing country actions to put women and girls at the centre of the AIDS response, ensuring that their rights are protected.

During the panel Ms. Clark pointed out that UNDP is already taking action on its Agenda for Action commitments.  “It’s time for action and our agency is proud of its responsibilities under this new accelerated plan,” Ms. Clark said. Specifically, she said UNDP will:

  • support leadership development for HIV positive women and girls in 30 countries
  • support positive women’s networks being fully involved and reporting on the Millennium Development Goals
  • encourage countries to put HIV reporting into their reporting under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • initiate “know your rights” campaigns focusing on the rights of women and girls in a number of countries.

Ms. Clark also highlighted UNDP’s leadership role in an inter-agency project being implemented in the ten countries where the majority of HIV positive women live. Called Universal Access for Women and Girls Now!, the project aims to accelerate progress on achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for women and girls.

UNDP is also launching a new initiative, The Independent Commission on AIDS and Law, Ms. Clark said. It will look at the overly broad criminalization of HIV transmission and practices such as drug use, sex work and same sex sexual relations. The Commission aims to facilitate supportive national legal environments by developing actionable, evidence-informed and human rights-based recommendations for law and policy reform.

The launch of the Agenda for Action was organized by UNAIDS and several United Nations Member States and involved many prominent leaders from the United Nations system, governments and civil society.