More than 30 million people are today living with HIV. Globally, women now account for half of all infections. Yet women increasingly make up the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic has stretched the furthest. In parts of Africa and the Caribbean, young women ages 15–24 are up to six times more likely to be HIV-positive than young men of the same age. The proportions of women living with HIV in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe are also growing slowly.

Gender inequality and violations of women’s rights make women and girls particularly susceptible, leaving them with less control than men over their bodies and their lives. Women and girls often have less information about HIV and fewer resources to take preventive measures. They face barriers to the negotiation of safer sex, including economic dependency and unequal power relations. Sexual violence, a widespread and brutal violation of women’s rights, exacerbates the risk of transmission. And while it is widely assumed that marriage provides protection from AIDS, evidence suggests that in parts of the world it can be a major HIV risk factor, especially for young women and girls.

In many cases, HIV-positive women face stigma and exclusion, aggravated by their lack of rights. Women widowed by AIDS or found to be HIV-positive may face property disputes with in-laws. And regardless of whether they themselves are HIV-positive, women generally assume the burden of home-based care for others who are sick or dying, along with the orphans left behind.

The sixth Millennium Development Goal calls for reversing the spread of HIV and AIDS by 2015. To that end, more resources are needed, and strategies and programmes must be targeted to women in particular. At a UN General Assembly Special Session in 2001, more than 180 countries agreed that gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to reducing girls’ and women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.

UN WOMEN’s Approach

UN WOMEN brings gender equality and human rights perspectives to its work on women and HIV and AIDS, spearheading strategies that make clear links to underlying factors such as violence against women, feminized poverty and women’s limited voice in decision-making. UN WOMEN has contributed to integrating gender aspects into the plans and policies developed by national AIDS councils in more than 35 countries and regional programmes.

With an emphasis on reducing discrimination, UN WOMEN highlights the contributions and priorities of women living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. In a number of countries, HIV-positive women have taken a leading role in advocacy by forming networks that provide a strong platform for their voices to be heard. UN WOMEN provides technical support to enhance the leadership and participation of HIV-positive women in decision-making, and works to safeguard their rights to services, inheritance and property.

Gender and HIV/AIDS Web Portal

To provide a comprehensive resource on the gender dimensions of HIV and AIDS, UN WOMEN maintains the Gender and HIV/AIDS Web Portal, launched in partnership with UNAIDS. It is designed to serve community activists, government officials and development practitioners. The portal features current research, multimedia materials and toolkits.