gender inequality

Gender comprises widely held beliefs, expectations, customs and practices within a society that define ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ attributes, behaviours and roles and responsibilities. Gender is an integral factor in determining an individual’s vulnerability to HIV infection, his or her ability to access care, support or treatment, and the ability to cope when infected or affected by HIV.

Gender norms, for example, often dictate that women and girls should be ignorant and passive about sex, leaving them unable to negotiate safer sex or access appropriate services. Gender norms in many societies also reinforce a belief that men should seek multiple sexual partners, take risks and be self-reliant. These norms work against prevention messages that support fidelity and other protection measures from HIV infection. Some notions of masculinity also condone violence against women, which has a direct link to HIV vulnerability, and homophobia, which results in stigmatisation of men who have sex with men, making these men more likely to hide their sexual behaviour and less likely to access HIV services. (See "Women and Girls" and "Men who have sex with men" for more specific information on the impact of gender inequality on vulnerability to HIV).

Gender inequality both fuels and intensifies the impact of the HIV epidemic and is most effectively addressed on the national and community level. In the context of HIV prevention, treatment, care and mitigation, this reinforces the need for interventions that are directed at individual people. Reducing gender inequality requires changing social norms, attitudes and behaviours through a comprehensive set of policies and strategies.

At the 2006 High Level Meeting on AIDS, all member states of the United Nations have pledged “ to eliminate gender inequalities, gender-based abuse and violence” and to “increase the capacity of women and adolescent girls to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection, principally through the provision of health care and services, including, inter alia, sexual and reproductive health, and the provision of full access to comprehensive information and education.”

Furthermore, as part of the same resolution, all member states of the United Nations have also pledged to “ensure that women can exercise their right to have control over, and decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality in order to increase their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection, including their sexual and reproductive health… and to take all necessary measures to create an enabling environment for the empowerment of women and strengthen their economic independence; and in this context, reiterate the importance of the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.

Priority actions to address gender inequalities

Top leadership at every level of society must speak out against stigma, discrimination, gender inequality and women’s empowerment

Laws and policies that protect women and girls against sexual violence, disinheritance and gender discrimination of all kinds, including harmful traditional practices and sexual violence in and outside of marriage must be enacted, publicized and enforced.

Women must be adequately represented in policy-and decision-making on AIDS.

Laws and policies that directly address gender inequality and bias against people perceived to be at heightened risk for HIV, including sex workers and men who have sex with men, must be enacted and enforced.

Changes in laws and policies must be accompanied by adequately funded “know your rights and social mobilization campaigns against gender inequality and HIV related stigma and discrimination; the campaigns should involve organizations of people living with HIV along with all other elements of civil society in their planning and implementation.

  • GCWA aims to support Governments to:
  • Enact and enforce legislation, policies and programmes that protect the rights of women and girls in terms of gender equality and freedom from violence.
  • Expand access to sexual and reproductive health care programmes and integrate HIV into these.
  • Promote campaigns and community dialogue to change harmful gender norms, engage men and boys and eliminate violence against women and girls.
  • Keep girls in schools and make schools free of sexual violence and exploitation.
  • Implement economic empowerment schemes for women, including women care-givers.
  • Implement social support programmes for care-givers and orphans, which also engage men and transform care-giving roles.
  • Build the capacity of women’s organisations and gender equality organizations as key partners in the development of national AIDS strategies.
  • Incorporate gender dimensions into monitoring and evaluation activities, ensuring that data is disaggregated by sex, age and marital status

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