This week, we celebrate 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 is highlighting its work in addressing gender and the needs of women and girls in this epidemic.
Addressing gender issues is essential to reducing the vulnerability of women and men to HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR country programs have consistently included funding for programs to address gender issues. Over the past two years, PEPFAR has also provided over $50 million in central funding to country programs to strengthen gender programming; over $9.5 million of these funds were reserved for an innovative Gender Challenge Fund.
The idea of the Gender Challenge Fund is to make additional resources available to PEPFAR country programs on a matching basis. This Fund serves as an incentive to leverage country PEPFAR funds to advance key gender related issues and programs within PEPFAR’s gender strategy priority areas. These priorities include:
- Mainstreaming gender issues into PEPFAR service delivery programs;
- Strengthening programs addressing gender-based violence;
- Working with men and boys to change norms and behaviors that are harmful to women and girls;
- Providing economic and education opportunities for women and girls;
- Enacting legal and policy reform on gender issues.
To date, 15 countries have received additional Gender Challenge funding. Here are just a few of the ways in which PEPFAR country programs are putting these additional resources to use.
In Botswana, PEPFAR is supporting capacity-building and training at the national and local levels of government for data collection on gender issues and needed programs. Because women’s economic vulnerability makes it more likely that they will be forced to engage in risky sexual activity, we are also supporting income generation activities, with a special focus on woman facing elevated risk, including sex workers.
Working with men and boys in multiple ways is an essential part of our gender strategy. In the Dominican Republic, PEPFAR is using Gender Challenge funding to support male involvement in couples HIV testing and counseling, using programs to prevent of mother-to-child transmission as a platform.
In Ethiopia, PEPFAR is strengthening programs which address trauma related to gender-based violence (GBV) as part of its work with orphans and vulnerable children and adolescent girls. This includes training health and social services providers to both identify and adequately respond to GBV, as well as supporting safe spaces for adolescent girls who have experienced or are at high risk for GBV.
With PEPFAR support, Ghana is expanding women’s leadership training for people living with HIV to build their capacity to become active participants in the HIV response at the local and national levels. In addition, PEPFAR is also helping Ghana expand support and services, such as HIV prevention and care, to young female migrants who work as market porters. These girls are highly vulnerable to both GBV and HIV.
In Uganda, with support from the Gender Challenge Fund, PEPFAR is integrating gender programming into their prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV work as well as supporting the convening of a national task force to address gender issues. PEPFAR is also supporting a collaborative strategic information initiative to ensure the availability of strong, accurate, and program-focused information on gender.
PEPFAR programs seek to respond to the structural drivers of the AIDS epidemic, such as gender issues, as well as to ensure we are adequately meeting the needs of women and girls. We are encouraged by the successes the Gender Challenge Fund has begun to achieve, and remain committed to working alongside governments, partners, and communities to have even more of an impact in the days to come.