BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE FIFTY EIGHT SESSION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
MARK THE OBSERVANCE OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
8 MARCH 2004
good cause, on this International Women Day, to celebrate
together all that has been achieved nationally, regionally
and internationally for gender equality. Many of our accomplishments
have been impressive, including the seminal Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
now having 175 states parties. We can also point to legislative
and socio-economic gains made in respect of the rights of
women and girls.
have expected the enjoyment of women's rights and gender
equality to be fully respected by the twenty-first century.
However, our efforts to remove the barriers to the socio-economic
and political issues women face continue, conscious as we
are of the challenges and vulnerabilities to which they
are exposed as a result.
theme of International Women's Day, Women and HIV/AIDS,
underscores the growing impact that this deadliest of pandemic
poses to women and girls. Considered to be only marginally
at risk at the outset of the pandemic when the virus seemed
to be confined to men, half of those living with HIV/AIDS
are now women and girls. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated
that 58 per cent of those living with HIV are women, and
young women ages 15 to 24 are more than twice as likely
to be infected as young men.
It is a regrettable fact that gender roles and relations
significantly impact risk and vulnerability to HIV infection,
insofar as gender determines roles and responsibilities
in society, determines power, decision-making, access to
and control over assets and personal welfare in general.
We cannot, therefore, effectively respond to the pandemic
unless we address the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS.
Too often in families, health care resources are allocated
firstly to men and boys and later, or not at all, to women
and girls. Too often women infected by HIV/AIDS continue
to prioritise the care of others, many seeking treatment,
care or support for themselves when it is too late. Too
often lack of access to information, education or health
care services increase the risk that women will be infected
by HIV, and ill equips them to respond to the consequences
of HIV infection.
against HIV/AIDS must therefore ensure the equal access
of women to their full rights as citizens. In particular,
women must have equal status under the law, must be educated,
must be the beneficiary of poverty reduction strategies,
and must be protected from all forms of violence. Importantly,
HIV/AIDS strategies must ensure women equal access to prevention,
treatment and care services and must address the stigma
and discrimination associated with the disease. I firmly
believe that nowhere is equality more desperately needed
as in the effort to protect women from HIV/AIDS.
The international community, including UNAIDS and the World
Health Organization, is doing its part. Initiatives such
as the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS launched by UNAIDS
should contribute much to mitigating the impact of AIDS
on women and girls. WHO's initiative to have three million
people on antiretroviral therapy by 2005 should improve
the quality of life of millions suffering from HIV/AIDS.
And we are all cognizant that the global community, at the
highest level made, and must keep, the commitment to combat
HIV/AIDS in the Millennium Declaration.
and every one of us, men and women, girls and boys, have
a role to play in halting and reversing this deadly pandemic.
Men and boys must be committed to changing traditional attitudes
where these perpetuate gender inequality. Whether as fathers
and brothers, legislators, corporate executives, community
leaders, youth leaders, professionals or members of civil
society organisations, men need a clear understanding about
how gender roles impact HIV/AIDS, the devastation the disease
is causing in their societies and communities, and what
they must do to address it.
theme of International Women's Day urges us to focus, particularly
for a day, on women and HIV/AIDS. This is our starting point.
But if we are to save millions around the world, men and
women, we must observe not just today, but each day, every
day, as AIDS awareness day.