March 8, 2010
Today, March 8, is International Women's Day - a day to celebrate the achievements made towards gender equality and recommit ourselves to the work that still needs to be done.
In many part of the world, the AIDS epidemic has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. HIV/AIDS is the leading killer of women ages 15-44 worldwide. In Africa, nearly 60 percent of all people living with HIV are women, with young women especially vulnerable to infection.
Unfortunately, the overall lack of access to quality health services in many under-resourced nations tends to exacerbate this disparity. And women are often the caretakers of family members, especially children, impacted by the virus.
Furthermore, recent data shows that women are subject to shocking levels of physical and sexual violence around the world. Some countries, like Ethiopia, report that over 50 percent of women have experienced an incident of violence in the last year.
PEPFAR has worked and is continuing to address gender disparities associated with AIDS through a two-pronged approach. First, we support gender mainstreaming or integration into all prevention, care, and treatment programs; second, we also support focused programming to address five areas of specific focus. These approaches have allowed us to have a positive influence on gender dynamics in our partner countries, but there is much more work to be done.
The HIV-affected and infected women we serve will benefit from the Obama Administration's Global Health Initiative (GHI), which places women's health at the center of the initiative. As the cornerstone of GHI, PEPFAR will work with partner governments to encourage and support them to take a comprehensive approach to HIV and women's health. Moving forward, we will support partner governments as they expand and implement country-level commitments to gender equality while increasing our investments in programs that address key issues. As part of GHI, we will work with partner countries to integrate HIV/AIDS programs with those that provide other services women need, such as maternal and child health, and family planning. In particular, we will work to ensure that our programs reduce gender-based violence, and increase the ability of women to not only access quality services, but also become involved in the planning and implementation of such services.
The drivers of gender disparity in health are complex, but unless we address them, the epidemic will continue to disproportionately affect the health and lives of women worldwide. So, on this International Women's Day, I am proud that PEPFAR is part of our nation's intensive focus on advancing and protecting the rights and health of women and girls.
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