An intergenerational collective of African women leaders champions the role of young women in the global response to HIV
His Excellency Kassim Majaliwa Majaliwa, Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania, delivered the opening address. Participants joined in person and online from 15 African countries where girls and young women experience disproportionately high rates of new HIV infections. Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women; the Honorable Donald J. Wright, United States Ambassador to Tanzania; The Honorable Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzanian Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders and Children, was among the other dignitaries present.
This intergenerational, cross-sector, and transnational leadership meeting was supported by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and resulted in a set of recommendations for policymakers to take forward. The recommendations focused on ways to reduce the alarming incidence of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa and increase their access to HIV prevention and treatment services.
“Today marks the beginning of a new milestone in women’s leadership in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” said Ms. Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women. “By bringing together established and emerging women leaders across Africa, and with the support of partners, this intergenerational collective of African women leaders will ensure that the voices of women of all ages inform decision-making around the response to HIV. . This is essential to ensure that the HIV response in the future meets the needs of all, including young women.
In sub-Saharan Africa, every two minutes, an adolescent girl or young woman was newly infected with HIV in 2021 alone, or about 4,900 new infections every week.
“To end the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we must address the inequalities in prevention, care and treatment, education, economic and other that make adolescent girls and young women vulnerable,” said the Dr. John Nkengasong, who oversees PEPFAR. “Through programs like DREAMS, we can expand our efforts to empower adolescent girls and young women and build partnerships at the community level to increase our efforts to remove barriers that put them at higher risk of contracting HIV. At PEPFAR, we are increasing our investment to close known gaps in HIV prevention services for adolescent girls and young women by nearly 20% in FY2023. PEPFAR cannot do this alone and that is why our partnerships with UN Women, UNAIDS, the Global Fund, partner countries, communities, among other key partnerships, are so critical. We are all engaged in a collective and coordinated response.
The disproportionate vulnerability to HIV infection of adolescent girls and young women is due to persistent gender inequalities, stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence, child marriage, unpaid care responsibilities and other inequalities that hinder young women’s access to HIV prevention and treatment services, coupled with barriers to education and employment opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these factors and put girls at even greater risk.
The high-level meeting in Tanzania is part of a UN Women program supported by PEPFAR to provide leadership, training and mentorship opportunities to empower young women and increase their access to decision-making spaces. decision-making in the response to HIV. Over the past year, nearly 200 women aged 18 to 24 from 15 countries have received training.
“Mentoring is a key ingredient in developing strong leaders,” said the Hon. Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzanian Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders and Children. “Many of these young women will one day be in our shoes and occupy positions of influence. As established leaders, we need to open doors and invest in building their skills and confidence so they can bring about positive change in their communities and countries.
Participants at the high-level meeting used the hashtag #takethelead to raise awareness through social media. They called for the active participation of young women in decision-making regarding the response to HIV and beyond. They stressed the importance of joint efforts with established leaders to promote women’s rights.
“It is time for young women to take the lead and make their voices heard so that we can influence decisions on HIV-related policies, programs and budgets,” said Rahma Seleman Jumanne, youth advocate from Tanzania. “It’s very powerful for us young leaders to see so many established government leaders stand with us and call for change.”
Other partners supporting the meeting in Tanzania included the African Women Leaders Network, the United Nations in Tanzania and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The countries represented by the women leaders were: Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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