The march for equality runs through streets and parliaments, schools and civic squares. It confronts obstacles in our laws and justice systems. And it is increasingly working to overcome injustices magnified by disease.
As we have learned through confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, structural inequalities – economic, social, cultural, legal – can and will exacerbate a crisis and impede progress. We are unfortunately witnessing this firsthand through the rising conflict in Ethiopia.
So it is with the disease of HIV/AIDS and the effort to end violence against women.
AIDS IS A GENDER ISSUE
This coming December 1st marks the annual United Nations World AIDS Day. This will be the 34th year the world will recognize this day, pausing to reflect on the millions of lives cut short and the devastating impacts which reverberate through families and communities still to this day. Yet World AIDS Day was created not for mourning, but for action. For change.
The continuous, urgent need to end AIDS is a challenge with which Crossroads International is very familiar. In fact, many of the countries in which we work are particularly ravaged by AIDS and its intersecting issues of gender-based violence and poverty. Consider, the prevalence rate of HIV among adults aged 15-49 in Eswatini remains a shocking 26.8%. In Zambia, the rate is 11.1%. There are 98,000 children in Uganda under the age of 14 who are living with HIV. In each of these countries, the prevalence rate of HIV in women is nearly double that of men.
AIDS is a gender issue, particularly in Africa.
Women and girls – through risk of sexual violence, or early and forced marriage, or through a general lack of awareness about AIDS, including transmission risks and protection measures – are at unique risk. Underlying this risk is the minimal access to basic human rights that would allow women and girls to better be able to protect themselves, and often, their own children, from the disease.
change starts with us
Crossroads has been seeing this in our work for decades. This is why we have collaborated with local partners to establish innovative programs such as our girls’ empowerment program – and later, boys for change – to challenge social and cultural norms and provide safe spaces for girls and boys to better understand sexual and reproductive health rights as well as eliminating harmful social beliefs. The clubs have helped more young women escape an unnecessarily tragic fate.
Today, there are 3,000 girls participating annually in 71 clubs in Eswatini, Ghana, and Togo. But, as always, we have more to do, on AIDS, and on eliminating violence against women.
On November 25th, the world will mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This day will also kick off the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a global, grassroots campaign of activism. The annual campaign will run until 10 December, Human Rights Day.
The theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism is “Orange the world: End violence against women now”. We encourage all Canadians to participate. Each day, take an action – sign a petition, share a social media post, educate a friend, volunteer in your community, or advocate to government.
On that note, this is something you can do directly. On November 22nd, Canada’s Parliament will return to work with a new Minister of International Development, Harjit Sajjan. All of us should urge our new Minister and our local Members of Parliament to ensure Canada takes a leadership role in the world, to meet its development goals and its commitment to end AIDS and prevent violence against women.
You can contact your MP here: Find Members of Parliament – Members of Parliament – House of Commons of Canada.
Over the next few weeks, let’s make our voices heard!