The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, says tackling gender inequality in society is key to reducing women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.
According to her, gender-based violence exposed women to HIV and AIDS infections and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and also reduced their ability to protect themselves.
The First Lady said this when she joined a panel of discussants to answer the question “How does gender inequality increase women’s vulnerability to HIV?” at a symposium organised by the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) at the 20th International Conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa (ICASA) underway in Kigali, Rwanda.
The ICASA conference is on the theme, “AIDS Free Africa- Innovation, Community, and Political Leadership”.
This year’s ICASA is an opportunity for the international community, and all Africans, to join efforts to commit to achieving an AIDS-free Africa.
The conference, which began on December 1, — a day marked as the World AIDS Day and is scheduled to end on December 7, 2019, is being attended by over 1000 delegates from across Africa and beyond made up of some of the world’s leading scientists, policymakers, activists, Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV), government leaders as well as international partners such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Global Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), among others.
The 2019 ICASA conference is expected to engage the whole continent and all stakeholders in the Post-Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Framework and the way forward.
It is aimed at promoting community, scientific, and technological innovations for ending AIDS as well as advocating financing sustainable national health responses, political leadership and accountability.
The conference will further advocate strengthened health systems and multi-sectoral collaboration to integrate co-morbidities, emerging infections and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
Mrs Akufo-Addo in her submission said women and girls were more susceptible to contracting HIV and other STDs just because they were the female gender.
She said limited or lack of education for female children due to household poverty, which in turn limited their economic viability and ability to make informed decisions and choices, was one of the factors that made the female gender more vulnerable.
She said girls from poorer backgrounds were more likely to engage in jobs to improve the family income but some got raped as they engaged with casual sex partners, thereby exposing them to HIV.
Early marriage, the First Lady said, was also another way of exposing young girls to HIV and STIs as they were married off most often to elderly men who were already infected or had multiple sexual partners.
Stating some of the initiatives that she, as the First Lady, was implementing to help halt women and girls’ vulnerability in Ghana, she said.
The Rebecca Foundation, of which she was the Executive Director, had introduced the ‘Terema Initiative’ where young girls and women were supported with income-generating activities to make them more self-sustaining wherever they found themselves.
Other speakers, including the First Lady of the Botswana, Mrs Neo Jane Masisi; the First Lady of Chad, Mrs Hinda Deby Itno, and the First Lady of Rwanda, Mrs Jeannette Kagame, called for sustainable ways of ensuring that women and girls in Africa were given the needed push economically to help them make informed decisions when it came to their sexual health.