Expert Group Meeting on
HIV/AIDS Pandemic and its Gender Implications
Windhoek, Namibia
13-17 November 2000


Message from

Ms. Angela E.V. King

Assistant Secretary-General
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

United Nations

It is an honour for me to send this message to the Expert Group Meeting on "The HIV/AIDS Pandemic and its Gender Implications." I am delighted that the meeting is taking place in Namibia, one of the strongest supporters of the United Nations and a staunch advocate for gender and the advancement of women. In May this year, Namibia hosted a landmark event resulting in the far-reaching Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations jointly organized by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and my Office. In June, His Excellency Minister Gurirab presided over the special session of the General Assembly "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace." Only three weeks ago, Namibia chaired a historic meeting of the Security Council on women, peace and security. For the first time in the United Nations history, the Council agreed to place the item of women and peace on its agenda under the Chairmanship of Namibia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Martin Andjaba. I am deeply grateful to the Government and the people of Namibia for their co-operation and support for our activities in the advancement of women, and in particular, for hosting this expert group meeting.

I wish also to thank our sister organizations co-sponsors of this meeting – the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. I would like to recognize all participants in this meeting. Your outstanding credentials as researchers, practitioners and politicians in HIV/AIDS and gender are the best guarantee that this meeting will produce practical strategies to address gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS and strengthen international co-operation in combating this deadly pandemic.

The theme of this meeting is particularly timely, as the issue of HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls, particularly in Africa has emerged as an international priority for the Millennium Summit, the General Assembly, the Security Council, ECOSOC, the Commission on the Status of Women and other legislative bodies of the United Nations. It requires sustained action to ensure the advancement of women in all areas.

The escalation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the developing world is indeed unprecedented. Some 50 million people are infected with AIDS since 1970, 16 million have died. AIDS is now the number one killer in Africa, with 24.5 million adults and children being affected by this deadly disease. To date, it has claimed the lives of 2 million Africans, 10 times the number that have been killed as a result of recent conflicts throughout Africa. As the Security Council emphasized on 10 January 2000, HIV/AIDS, if unchecked, may pose a threat to stability and security. The pandemic threatens the survival of entire nations in the region, and has had a disproportionate impact on women. By the end of this year 13 million more women will be affected and a further 4 million will have died. In the worst hit cities of southern Africa, 40 per cent of pregnant women are HIV-positive. Since the epidemic began, AIDS has left a global total of 13.2 million children orphaned. By 2010, it is estimated that there will be 40 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, largely because of HIV/AIDS.

This meeting takes place in the aftermath of the special session of the General Assembly on Beijing+5. The session called on Governments and other actors to enhance international cooperation in fighting HIV/AIDS and take bold measures to develop vaccines, low-cost diagnoses, adequate housing and social protection, assist girls and boys orphaned by AIDS and provide gender-sensitive support systems for affected persons.

Your meeting also takes place against the background of the historic consensus of the Millennium Summit where world leaders agreed on such fundamental values as men’s and women’s freedom to live their lives and raise their children; equal rights and opportunities for women and men; solidarity in distributing the costs and burdens; social justice and tolerance. It takes place at the time when the Summit decided to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, provide special assistance to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and to help Africa to build up its capacity to tackle the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Your meeting is held following the decision of the General Assembly adopted on 5 December 2000 to convene in May 2001 a special session of the General Assembly to review and address the problem of HIV/AIDS in all its aspects and coordinate and intensify international efforts to combat it.

To confront this pandemic we need a new approach: one that combines the promotion of basic education with respect to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; and one which provides full, equal and affordable access to primary health care. During the Millennium Summit, at a meeting convened by Mrs. Nane Annan, Dr. Peter Piot, the Head of UNAIDS called on 70 First Ladies to assist in this endeavour by speaking out against the stigma surrounding the disease and publicizing strategies to confront it. Here success stories, such as those of Senegal and Uganda, where remarkable work has been done, should be recognized, publicized and emulated.

We look for your input into the future work of the Commission on the Status of Women and into how to reshape the work of the United Nations regarding gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS so that in the Secretary-General’s words "we can make a real and measurable difference to people’s lives".

This meeting should build on what was achieved at Beijing+5 and maintain the momentum created by the Millennium Summit and other United Nations meetings in promoting women’s health care with regard to HIV/AIDS. We must strive to develop ways to encourage all actors, including men, to translate Governments’ commitments made at Beijing+5 into reality. We must continue to raise awareness of Governments and civil society of the critical need for empowering women to have sufficient access to affordable and quality health services against the pandemic. We need to mainstream a gender perspective in each decision and programme dealing with HIV/AIDS. We must develop effective long-term strategies for HIV/AIDS education, prevention, voluntary and confidential testing and counselling and treatment. We finally must have a blueprint for partnerships with Governments, civil society, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and private sector, in resolving these problems.

This will pave the road to empower women, men and children against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is the key to survival of nations, well-being and social development.