Empower young women and adolescent girls: fast-track the end of the AIDS epidemic in Africa

Empower young women and adolescent girls: fast-track the end of the AIDS epidemic in Africa

"To be effective, any health and development agenda needs to focus on the root causes of the gender gap, and the AIDS response is no different."

This report was produced to guide regional and global advocacy and inform political dialogue, particularly within discussions and planning being shaped as part of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, in order to consider actions needed to achieve the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. The report centres on the understanding that this requires taking action to target the root causes of young women and girls' vulnerability, largely arising from harmful gender norms and inequality.

The report offers five key recommendations:

  • Women's agency, participation and leadership: By empowering women as political and social actors, institutions and policies can become more representative of diverse voices, including those young women and girls. This should include young women living with and affected by HIV being part of policy and decision-making bodies and ensuring women's participation in humanitarian situations.
  • Strategies to reduce intimate partner violence and reduce vulnerability to HIV: "Strategies and action implemented at the community level to address intimate partner violence are critical to reducing young women's and adolescent girls' vulnerability to HIV." One example given is the Raising Voices SASA! kit, which was designed to inspire and guide community mobilisation to prevent violence against women and HIV. "Community activists spearheaded a wide range of activities in their own neighbourhoods designed to decrease the social acceptability of violence by influencing knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviours on gender, power and violence."
  • Scaling up social protection and cash transfers to reduce poverty and girls' vulnerability to HIV: According to the report, in the context of comprehensive social policies and programmes, "households affected by HIV are an appropriate target for cash transfer programmes that aim to alleviate poverty. Cash transfers can achieve multiple simultaneous outcomes, including declines in early marriage and teenage pregnancy."
  • Strategies to keep girls in school and comprehensive sexuality education: Evidence shows that education contributes to a higher level of knowledge about HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights, lowers exposure to gender-based violence, and increases women's and girls' chances of being financially secure and independent. As well, "when young women and adolescent girls have access to comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality education before becoming sexually active, they are more likely to make informed decisions about their sexuality and approach relationships with more self-confidence."
  • Scaling up and integrating HIV with sexual and reproductive health services: "A massive scale-up of comprehensive and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health and HIV services for young women and adolescent girls should be planned and rolled out, taking into consideration rapid population growth. " This would include condom programming designed to reach young people, removing barriers around reproductive health services such as parental and spousal consent, and ensuring access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.

The report concludes that "Fast-tracking the end of the AIDS epidemic by 2030 requires strong political leadership and commitment to stop new infections and deaths among young women and adolescent girls and eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV. This requires building on, and extending Africa's commitments on sexual and reproductive health and rights, expanding ministerial commitments on comprehensive sexuality education and stopping early marriage, adolescent pregnancy and expanding treatment service coverage."

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