"I am … filled with pride, thinking about the countless people who fought for justice, called for equal access to quality health care for all – not just for those who could afford it – and helped transform the AIDS response. So often those advocates were women, remarkable women who were on the frontlines caring for families and communities and calling for change. … They are the heroines whose voices and faces are so indelibly marked in my memory. And they are the ones on whose shoulders we stand as we continue to work towards an AIDS-free generation.” – Graça Machel
Graça Machel, who contributes an essay to this publication (see page 90), knows what she is talking about. As an advocate for women’s and children’s rights for decades, she and the women she celebrates are shining examples of how the input and capacity of women have been central to the development of new ideas, standards and strategies that have benefited millions of people worldwide.
The essays by women leaders and trailblazers accompanying this report illustrate the extent to which this has been true throughout the history of the global HIV response for children and adolescents.
Yet the impact of the HIV epidemic on women and their contributions to countering it have often been unrecognized and underappreciated. One reason is that HIV was early on identified as an infection that devastated communities of men who have sex with men in high-income countries. For more than two decades now, however, it has been women who have disproportionately borne the impact of HIV, both as caregivers and recipients of care, in most higherburden settings. Women in Africa and most other regions constitute by far the largest share of caregivers, community-level workers and volunteers who provide critical HIV treatment, prevention and support services– both inside and outside their families.
Indeed, women have been the ‘heroines’ Machel lauds – and both they and the HIV response are the stronger for it. They almost certainly will continue to exhibit such strength moving forward, both to build on and sustain successes and to forcefully confront the major gaps and challenges that could inhibit greater progress towards ending AIDS.