Despite the gains that have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the past 15 years, progress for women and girls has faltered. In many parts of the world, adolescent girls and young women are at a much greater risk of acquiring HIV than boys and men of the same age due to social and structural factors like exploitative attitudes toward sex, the prominence of intimate partner violence, and the inaccessibility of education.
Nowhere is this trend more problematic than sub-Saharan Africa, where young women are twice as likely as young men to be living with HIV and where 715 young women age 15-24 are infected with HIV each day. In 2013, 74% of HIV infections in adolescents in Africa were among girls.
Why is the burden of HIV/AIDS among girls and women so inordinate, particularly in under-resourced regions like sub-Saharan Africa? In this year’s Poverty is Sexist report, ONE shows that economic marginalisation and risk of deadly disease are two mutually exclusive evils that too many women in our world are forced to face.
Across the world, poverty is the first drop of a ripple effect in which every added circle renders women more and more vulnerable to HIV infection. Girls from lower-income households, for example, are nearly twice as likely to marry before the age of 18 as girls from wealthier backgrounds; too often, these girls marry older men who have a higher probability of being HIV-positive. Girls who marry before age 18 are also more likely to experience violence – according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 1 in 10 girls are raped or sexually attacked by the age of 20. This violence in turn increases the risk of HIV infection by 50%. With these obstacles stacked against them, girls and young women are much less likely to benefit from a proper education: 60.5% of adolescent girls are not enrolled in secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa, which increases their chance of acquiring HIV by twofold.
For girls and women to conquer the twin shackles of poverty and disease and meet their potential, the time to grab political opportunities around health is NOW. Until leaders tackle the injustices that pervade the lives of girls and women, and until policies and funding unlock the potential of women, half of the world’s resources will remain untapped, and social and economic progress will be hindered.
In 2016, ONE is asking global leaders to unlock this potential by mobilising a successful replenishment for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. If the ask of $13 billion is raised, the Global Fund will save up to 8 million lives, avert up to 300 million new infections of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, and lead to broad economic gains of up to $290 billion over the coming decades, while benefiting women and girls in particular.
Today, 55-60% of the Fund’s spending is now specifically targeted to women and girls, yielding a structured prioritisation of women and girls around the world: In Botswana, for instance, the Global Fund provides legal aid services and support to women and girls who are survivors of gender-based violence, while eliminating structural barriers to quality health care, and in Kenya and South Africa, the Global Fund supports programs that aim to keep girls and women ages 14-22 in school, and to offer them additional educational and social support.
The Global Fund’s focus on women and girls spans all levels, from programmatic implementation to high-level governance. In all grants, for example, the Global Fund requires countries to report sex- and age-disaggregated data, and gender-tailored analysis is a requisite part of the concept note process. In addition, the Global Fund is actively finding ways to better engage women in its decision-making processes: In 2015, almost 40% of Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) members in implementing countries were women (an increase from 33.9% in 2010), and 60% of the Fund’s Secretariat is female.
This 2016, it is time for world leaders to join the Global Fund as co-champions of the health and prosperity of women and girls around the world.