Remarks prepared by Dean Peacock, Co-Executive Director, Sonke Gender Justice, advisory board member, Global Coalition on Women and AIDS.
I’d like to thank the organisers of this event for the invitation. It’s an honour to speak on this important panel drawing attention to the urgency of implementing CSW Resolution 60/2 on Women, the Girl Child and HIV.
Political attention to HIV and to the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls is waning, and resources and political will are shrinking along with it. Resolution 60/2 drew our attention back to the urgent need for leadership on women, girls and HIV at last year’s CSW. This event now pushes us to assess progress against the commitments member states made in Resolution 60/2.
The organisation I work for, Sonke Gender Justice, a South African NGO, was established precisely to address the intersection of gender, HIV and human rights. It’s a great privilege to share our insights with you here today.
In South Africa, as you’ll know, we have the largest HIV epidemic in the world. This is driven in very significant part by men’s social, economic and personal power over women, and especially by extraordinarily high levels of men’s violence against women and girls. Despite the fact that South Africa has some of the highest levels of gender based violence in the world, and despite the overwhelming evidence that this dramatically increases women’s vulnerabilities to HIV and AIDS, we do not have a national action plan to address and prevent GBV in South Africa.
Minister Dlamini, we welcome your commitment to address GBV in your new position as Minister for Women in the Presidency, and, together with the nearly seventy organisations that make up the Stop Gender Violence campaign, urge you to use this position of significant influence to develop and implement a fully funded National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence. We will not effectively address South African women’s vulnerabilities to violence and HIV without such a plan.
Minister, we welcomed the African National Congress recent resolution to decriminalise sex work. We know that our current laws criminalising sex work dramatically increase sex workers vulnerabilities to both violence and HIV and we look forward to swift action from your ministry to advance the full decriminalisation of sex work.
Vice President Wina and Minister Dlamini, we congratulate both of you on the progressive positions taken here at the Commission on the Status of Women by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and we call on SADC to hold the line on the need for strong language on comprehensive sexuality education, LGBTQI rights, and SRHR, including access to safe and legal abortion. We cannot allow conservative forces to undermine women’s rights here at CSW.
Sonke’s work includes a strong focus on engaging men and boys for gender equality. You may wonder why when the situation of women and girls is so urgent, should we focus on men and boys.
The answer to the question of why we should engage men and boys is quite straightforward, of course: women and girls acquire HIV from men. There are two primary reasons for this.
Firstly, existing social norms about gender and about women and men’s roles and relative value in society often make it difficult for women to negotiate the terms of sex or to even say no to sex. Put simply, men’s power over women, their use of violence, or the threat of men’s violence dramatically increases women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV.
Secondly, social norms about manhood also often discourage men from using health services – and also contribute to health policies and health systems that fail to engage men. As a result, men are about 30% less likely than women to get tested or get on treatment. When men don’t know their status, they’re less likely to use condoms, more likely to have multiple partners, less likely to access treatment and be virally suppressed and therefore more likely to pass HIV on to their sexual partners.
When men get sick, it’s of course women and girls who shoulder the burden of caring for them and then grieve their death.
For these reasons we believe that engaging men and boys is one of many important ways to advance women’s rights.
When done well, and particularly when carried out in close partnership with and accountable to women’s rights organisation and movements, engaging men and boys can defuse political backlashes against women’s rights and increase men’s support for gender equality.
It’s worth restating, though: any efforts to engage men and boys should be done in a manner that is accountable to women’s rights organisations and informed by women’s political priorities.
Resolution 60/2 calls on all of us to engage men and boys to advance women’s rights. This builds on many prior UN resolutions – ICPD, the Beijing Platform for Action, CSW, UNGASS and HLM on HIV and AIDS, and of course here at CSW – which have all included strong commitments to engage men and boys to advance gender equality and obliged member states to develop policies and programmes to engage men and boys.
Against this backdrop, the good news is that UNAIDS, Sonke Gender Justice and the International Planned Parenthood Federation launched the Global Platform for Action on Men and HIV in 2016 and we’ve since been working together to roll it out in East and Southern Africa.
The GPFA has two principal strategies, both aimed at advancing women’s health and rights within the AIDS response: 1) to encourage UN agencies, donors and member states to increase implementation of evidence-based gender transformative programmes that challenge harmful and inequitable norms about masculinities that equate being a man with dominance over women, willingness to use violence, the pursuit of multiple sexual partners and a reluctance to seek help or use health services. 2) to increase men’s access to and use of HIV services and thereby ensure that their partners derive the benefits associated with men getting tested, knowing their HIV status, using condoms, getting circumcised, and achieving viral load suppression.
Since the launch of the UNAIDS GPFA on men and HIV, UNAIDS issued a landmark report on WAD last year which drew attention to men’s low use of HIV services and made the case that this represented a blind spot in the HIV response which undermined the HIV response in general and compromised the health of women and girls in particular.
UNAIDS and civil society partners are now working together with member states and especially NACs to implement the GPFA, including by developing policies and programmes that scale up efforts to engage men with gender transformative programming and improve men and boys access to and use of HIV services.
We know that when we take services out to communities and workplaces we are able to reach men and boys better – and also reach those women and girls who may not access health facilities.
Engaging men and boys for gender equality is a key strategy for advancing women’s health and rights within the HIV response.
It requires that men from all walks of life take make a firm commitment to advance women’s rights and to then hold each other to account to deliver on these commitments.
We urge member states to implement Resolution 60/2. We at Sonke call on men – in political office, in the corporate sector, in UN agencies and within civil society, within faith based organisation and in all communities across the globe – to lend their full support to advancing the health and rights of women and girls, and to supporting women’ leadership on HIV and AIDS.