UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima

The Executive Director of United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Winnie Byanyima has called for collective efforts to end gender-based violence. Byanyima said in her International Women’s Day message.

“We must end gender-based violence. Violence violates the dignity and freedom of women. Violence drives the AIDS pandemic. In areas of high HIV burden, women subjected to intimate partner violence face up to a 50% higher chance of acquiring HIV,” she said.

Under the theme: ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, Ms Byanyima said women have been brought to the fore, and as all the evidence demonstrates, every development goal depends on ensuring the rights of all women and girls.

Stories Continues after ad

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the intersecting inequalities women face. Surges have been reported in gender-based violence, forced child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Almost one in two women reported that they or a woman they know experienced violence since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

She in tandem, called for removal of all barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Only 55% of women and adolescent girls report being in control of decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health and rights. Maternal mortality is the leading cause of death for adolescent girls aged 15–19 years globally, and HIV is the third leading cause of death among women aged 15–49 years, both preventable when women control their own bodies.

She said: “We must ensure that every girl is educated and empowered. Research shows that completion of secondary education can reduce a girl’s risk of acquiring HIV by up to half, and by even more if this is complemented by a package of rights and services. We need all girls, including those who dropped out during the COVID-19 pandemic and those who were out of school even before COVID-19, in school, safe and strong.”