A coalition of African women are calling on governments to fully address cultural and traditional practices that continue to put women and girls at greater risk of HIV.
Tendayi Kateketa-Westerhof, Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition (PAPWC) representative for Southern Africa and Indian Oceans Islands, said African countries should look at more innovative ways to finance the response, particularly as donor funds are decreasing, while the need to prioritise sexual minorities and other key populations, which include, women and girls, in the HIV response is increasing.
“Shared responsibility can no longer be guaranteed. We are therefore calling upon the African Union and its regional economic blocks to consider more innovative mechanisms of financing, including engagement of private sector at the country levels to ensure that the needs of women and girls living with HIV and their families are met,” said Kateketa-Westerhof.
According to the UNAIDS Global Report 2013, in sub- Saharan Africa, the centre of the global epidemic, women account for about 57 per cent of people living with HIV.
PAPWC chairperson Dorothy Onyango said women’s vulnerability to HIV – in particular, poor, rural and marginalised women – is exacerbated by gender inequality and gender-based violence.
Many women and girls are still exposed to various forms of violence. As economic and political debate and dialogue shifts to ‘finding African solutions to African problems’, African women living with HIV are looking to craft their own solutions.
Testing, treatment, and viral load suppression
For this year’s International Women’s Day (8 March), the theme ‘make it happen’, was used by HIV activists to encourage effective action for advancing an adequate HIV response for women.
Joyce Kamwana, PAPWC coordinator in Malawi, said: “The 90-90-90 global targets to be achieved by 2030 are very ambitious, particularly for high burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In ‘making it happen’ we are calling for an African response to HIV and AIDS, especially advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls. We want to see 90 per cent testing for all women and girls, 90 per cent treatment for all women living with HIV, and 90 per cent viral load suppression for women and girls living with HIV.”
The African Union must make a considerable amount of investment in countries’ overall health systems as well as increase funding for programmes targeting women and girls if these goals are to be achieved.
“We are calling for accountability in all the targets set and various commitments to gender, sexual and reproductive health and rights, economic empowerment and legal policies that promote a better space for women and girls. Policy makers and programmers should involve the people, including key populations, in planning and putting women and girls living with HIV at the centre of the response. This is one way of recognising women, and in line with the PAPWC vision of an African continent where empowered HIV positive women and girls work together with other stakeholders towards achieving a comprehensive health agenda,” Kamwana added.
African Union commitments
Women and girls living with HIV face ongoing stigma and discrimination, including within families and communities, as well as within the health sector. The Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition is reframing issues of women and girls living with HIV and aligning them with the African Union commitments on gender, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV.
The issues African women living with HIV struggle with relate to economic, social and cultural context and tradition. Thinking about gender in Africa differently and addressing issues relevant to the continent such as culture and tradition are crucial.
Dr Lydia Mungherera, PAPWC coordinator for Uganda, said: “We are calling for the continued collaborative action across all sectors including governments, private industry, academics and civil society organisations. For Africa to create a better continent where women and girls can enjoy their rights, this would require a fully financed response and shared responsibility and global solidarity.”
Read more for how the international community must act to end violence against women.