International Women’s Day: Protect women and girls rights to protect their health

According to UNAIDS women who experience violence are at higher risk of HIV. File Picture.

According to UNAIDS women who experience violence are at higher risk of HIV. File Picture.

Published Mar 8, 2024


Durban — The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has called for protecting women’s rights to protect their health on International Women’s Day which is celebrated on March 8.

UNAIDS’ call this International Women’s Day, is to protect women and girls’ health, protect women and girls’ rights. In doing so, the world will end Aids and will overcome the inequalities driving it.

UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima said we mark this International Women’s Day in a fiercely challenging moment. Worldwide, at least five women or girls are killed every hour by someone in their family. One in three women worldwide experiences sexual or gender-based violence.

“Women who experience violence are also more at risk of HIV infection. This risk is heightened for the 600 million women and girls who live in the world’s conflict-affected countries facing an increased danger of sexual violence,” Byanyima said.

She explained that in sub-Saharan Africa, 3 100 girls are infected with HIV every week. Worldwide, 122 million girls are out of school. Millions of girls, even if they are in school, are not allowed to have vital information to protect themselves and protect their health. In the name of parental rights, many girls are denied even an HIV test. In the majority of the world’s poorest countries, the debt crisis is squeezing out funding for education, health and social protection. This is particularly hurting poor girls and poor women.

It is because of the denial of the rights of women and girls that the world is way off track in meeting the gender equality and HIV targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, Byanyima said.

“Today, women’s hard-won rights are under a globally coordinated, ruthless attack. And those facing the most vicious attack are already the most marginalised of women and girls. They are women living with HIV, racialised women, young women and girls women living in poverty, indigenous women, lesbian and transwomen, migrant women, women with disabilities, women who use drugs and women from excluded minorities,” Byanyima continued.

“The injustices faced by women are not natural disasters that we should prepare for like hurricanes or storms. They are man-made, man-made and as such we can unmake them.”

Looking at the good news, Byanyima said that across the world, women and girls are not waiting. They are leading the struggles for equality and rights in their communities. Women are standing up against oppression in their homes, workplaces, and their communities, even at great risk to their lives.

“All over the world, at all levels, women’s movements are challenging sexual and gender-based violence and claiming equality and rights. We’re seeing progressive men’s groups teaching men how to be allies to women’s movements,” Byanyima said.

“To protect women's health we need to protect women’s rights. And to protect women’s rights we need to support the women front-line defenders of these rights.

“The path that ends Aids is in fact a feminist path. The path that ends Aids is a rights path,” Byanyima said.

She added that those on the front lines are the heroes and the sheroes, lighting the way to the end of Aids.

“I salute you on International Women’s Day. We will overcome the Aids pandemic and we will overcome the gender qualities that drive it. Together we will succeed in protecting the health and the rights of all women and girls in all their diversity.”

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