This past week, we celebrated International Women's Day. According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 15-44, and nearly 60 percent of the people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Throughout the week, PEPFAR highlighted its work in addressing gender and the needs of women in this epidemic.
Last week's celebrations of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day allowed us to take stock and reflect on the progress we've made in advancing the health and rights of women and girls around the world, as well as the work we still have to do. We looked at the role of prevention of mother-to-child transmission on women's lives. We reflected on the tragedy of gender-based violence (GBV) and its relationship to HIV, describing PEPFAR's bold strategy and an innovative partnership with the private sector to eliminate violence against girls. We described the impact of PEPFAR's Gender Challenge Fund.
In order to sustain and expand the gains we've made to date, we need to ensure that gender is included as an integral part of all of our programming. As part of the Global Health Initiative, PEPFAR is committed to implementing programs that have a focus on women, girls, and gender equality. This means ensuring that our programs provide prevention, treatment and care that meet the needs of women and girls, such as linking HIV testing and treatment to antenatal care. However, meeting our goals around prevention, care, and treatment of HIV also requires PEPFAR to address the factors that create particular vulnerability for women and girls — gender-based violence (GBV), lack of economic and educational opportunity, and social norms that limit access to information and care.
Throughout the year, PEPFAR programs are working to target gender inequality that causes HIV risks. Some examples include:
Including women in the planning and implementation of projects. Programs intended to meet the needs of women are designed in consultation with the women that will be clients of these programs. Through Raising Voices in Uganda, for example, PEPFAR is supporting a model of community mobilization around an HIV and GBV prevention program. Women and girls are involved in both the design and monitoring of this project, which trains women to identify and change community norms.
Empowering adolescent girls. In many countries where PEPFAR works, infection rates among young women are higher than those among young men. In order to address the risk of HIV infection among adolescent girls, PEPFAR is targeting programs to help them get the support needed to help reduce risk. For example, in Ethiopia, PEPFAR is supporting the Biruh Tesfa project. This project seeks to protect the rights of vulnerable urban girls by providing safe spaces and health information, including HIV prevention education. In addition, Biruh Tesfa offers service to girls who have experienced sexual exploitation and abuse. Over 10,000 out-of-school girls have participated in Biruh Tesfa groups in five cities in Ethiopia.
Engaging men and boys as clients, supportive partners and role models. Addressing gender equality requires the involvement of men and boys in changing gender norms. PEPFAR's gender programming includes efforts to target men and enlist them as partners. In Namibia, to cite one example of many, PEPFAR is working to help men understand the positive role they can play in women's lives, and to increase male involvement in prevention activities like HIV testing and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
Our goal with these activities is to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls, but also to produce programs with a greater impact — programs that involve and meet the needs of the communities in which we work. Doing so creates lasting change that will impact the ability of women and girls to seek and receive care, not only for HIV/AIDS, but for a variety of needs.