Reducing the Impact of HIV Among Adolescent Girls
Around 180 young women and adolescent girls from Malawi, Kenya and Uganda have led a pilot project that aims to strengthen the leadership of young women and adolescent girls in the AIDS response. Called Empowerment + Engagement = Equality, the programme aims to address issues of gender inequality that heighten adolescent girls’ vulnerability to HIV infection and provide spaces where experiences can be shared.
The initiative, designed and implemented by UN Women and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, mobilized more than 1000 young advocates, including young women living with HIV, to voice their concerns at the local, regional and national levels. As well as sharing knowledge among themselves, the participants engaged in face-to-face and online meetings with parents, teachers, religious leaders and other community stakeholders to discuss how to change harmful gender norms and inequalities that increase the risk of HIV infection.
The First Lady of Malawi, Gertrude Mutharik, participated in one of the discussions and committed her support to challenging the issues that increase the risk of HIV infection among young women, including gender-based violence. The young leaders have continued to advocate at the highest levels, taking part in debates at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, in July 2016.
“Some of the most fulfilling work I have done as part of this project is to support other girls like me to feel empowered and in control of their lives,” said Divina Kemunto, from Kenya, “I shared my personal experience and encouraged girls living with HIV to believe that they too can walk with their heads held high and a smile on their face.”
Preventing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa is crucial if the world is to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030—in 2015, 75% of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa among adolescents were among adolescent girls aged 10–19 years. Preventing infections means empowering young women and girls to stay in school so they have better economic prospects, ensuring that they have the knowledge, information and tools to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and making sure they know what to do when faced with sexual violence.
Laws and policies that discriminate against women and girls must be dismantled and their sexual and reproductive health and rights must be fully respected.