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What Women Want - A New UNAIDS Initiative

UNAIDS has just released the hashtag #WhatWomenWant, a new framework and campaign that allows women and girls around the world to discuss and tackle issues related to HIV and reproductive health and rights.

While the U.S. and other Western countries have made great progress in the last few decades to help treat and prevent the spread of HIV, many other countries in the world have fallen behind. Gender inequality creates situations where women and girls are especially vulnerable to contracting HIV, and one thousand women each day are being infected with HIV around the world.

According to UNAIDS statistics, young women aged 15–24 years old account for 20 percent of new HIV infections among adults globally in 2015, despite accounting for just 11 percent of the adult population. In 2015, 80 percent of all the young women living with HIV in the world lived in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been hit hard by the epidemics of both HIV and tuberculosis.

Additionally, leaders, networks and organizations that have historically focused on HIV prevention among women are starting to close down or move away from tackling HIV, according to a new report published by UNAIDS.

In order to address this issue and refocus attention back to women’s health, UNAIDS has published new sustainable goals, many of which address gender inequality. When it comes HIV, several factors such as gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women drive HIV acquisition and amplify its impact. For more than one-third of all women, their first sexual experience is rape, which gives them no control over condom use.

The new sustainable goals focus on ending gender discrimination and all forms of violence against women and girls, including eliminating female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and aiming for universal access to sexual and reproductive health.

Even though many leaders around the world recognize that women’s health and rights are important issues, it can be hard to coordinate action among these leaders. In order to help actualize the new goals and coordinate action, UNAIDS has launched the #WhatWomenWant campaign.

“We need to invest in women and girls, especially adolescents, and give them space to have a voice globally, nationally, and in the community and the family,” said Jan Beagle, the UNAIDS deputy executive director.

Since February, 2016, #WhatWomenWant has united women, including women living with and affected by HIV, leaders and high-level decision makers from around the world. The campaign relies on community meetings, a young feminist blog series, high-level panels, think tank meetings and a large-scale social media and photo campaign.

“#WhatWomenWant was launched as a campaign, powered by young women who want to be meaningfully involved in making change for women and girls,” stated the UNAIDS report. “Using social media, it offers an innovative vehicle to amplify new voices, bring their solutions to the table, and build across and between issues, sectors, and movements.”

The campaign hopes to bring attention to the urgent need to address gender-related disparities within and beyond the HIV response. By giving women a platform to share their own experiences, the campaign hopes to let women define their own agendas when it comes to activism.

“We need to recognize that for young women to step into leadership roles, others need to step back and share the power they hold,” says Ana, a girl from Mexico, who participated in the campaign. “This is often the hardest part because it requires assessing and shifting the power dynamics.”

#WhatWomenWant hopes to allow women to find leadership opportunities in their communities that they may not have known to exist. Since May, 2016, the #WhatWomenWant hashtag has been used over 15,000 times. The young Feminist Blog Series spans 16 countries and territories. Activists working across HIV, women’s health, family planning, LGBTI issues, women’s entrepreneurship, gender-based violence and transgender rights, have all participated in the series.

“There is no progress if women cannot control their bodies. It’s applicable to fighting HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies,” said Marinella Matejcic, a woman from Croatia, as part of the blog series. “Parents of girls [should be] socialized to ensure that girls do not continue to be left vulnerable to contracting HIV simply from a lack of knowledge and confidence to protect themselves.”

The campaign also seeks to address funding and investments related to HIV and women’s health. According to the UNAIDS report, on the most basic level, investment in an HIV response for women by women has fallen short. Where there is funding, it only trickles down to women, and financial commitments have been insufficient when it comes to HIV prevention and women’s rights. UNAIDS hopes that the campaign will encourage more investments made to women-led civil societies and organizations.



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