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Division for the Advancement of Women
Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations

World Health Organization (WHO)

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)

Expert Group Meeting


The HIV/AIDS Pandemic and its Gender Implications

Windhoek, Namibia

13-17 November 2000

Aide -Mémoire


The Division for the Advancement of Women is organizing jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) an Expert Group Meeting on "The HIV/AIDS Pandemic and its Gender Implications", which will take place in Windhoek (Namibia) from 13 to 17 November 2000.

The United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women has repeatedly discussed women and HIV/AIDS in the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, including, most recently, when it reviewed the critical area of concern "Women and Health" at its forty-third session held in March 1999. Compelled by recent alarming developments with regard to women and HIV/AIDS, the Commission decided to consider the topic as a priority theme in its work programme for the year 2001. In order to contribute to a further understanding of the issue and provide input to the report of the Secretary General, it was decided to convene an Expert Group Meeting. The meeting will elaborate action-oriented recommendations to be forwarded to the Commission.

The seriousness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been pinpointed on several occasions at the international level and HIV/AIDS is now recognized as a phenomena with wide development and security implications. In January 2000, an unprecedented United Nations Security Council session was devoted exclusively to the impact of AIDS on peace and security in Africa and, as a follow-up to the Security Council debate, the Economic and Social Council is pursuing special initiatives with regards to HIV/AIDS. The International Partnership against AIDS in Africa, a joint initiative of the United Nations system, African Governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations and the private sector is addressing the HIV/AIDS in Africa in a concerted effort.

I. Background

By the end of 1999, the number of people living with HIV is estimated to have grown to 34.3 million world wide, up from 10 millions in 1990, 95 per cent of which are living in developing countries. Men still represent the majority of cases, but the number of women infected by HIV/AIDS is increasing. Whilst in 1997 women accounted for 41 per cent infected adults world wide, they now represent 47 per cent of all infected people over the age of 15. HIV/AIDS is now the fourth leading cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, home of 71 per cent of all the globally infected people and of 91 per cent of all AIDS orphans.

With 70 per cent of world wide infection occurring through unprotected sexual intercourse, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection due to their biological conditions as well as economic and social inequalities and culturally accepted gender roles which leave them in a subordinate position to men over decisions concerning sexual relations. By recognizing the interplay between gender and the HIV/AIDS pandemic and by looking at the social relationships between men and women and their influence on both its spread and impact, the cultural, social and economic dimensions of the pandemic become clear. New responses need to be envisaged to increase the effectiveness of the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The necessity to take a gender sensitive approach to combating HIV/AIDS has been embodied in the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (September 1995) stating that "the social, developmental and health consequences of HIV/AIDS [] need to be seen from a gender perspective" (Platform for Action, para 89). This was further reiterated in the special session of the General Assembly "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the 21st century"(June 2000).

The Commission on the Status of Women has repeatedly expressed its concern over the growing rates of infection among women in every region of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where women constitute 55 per cent of all adult infections. Of particular concern is the continuing violation of the human rights of women and girls which is not only one of the root causes of women and girls’ infection but also one of the reasons why women are particularly severely affected by the pandemic. Young women and girls are a specifically vulnerable group as recently recognized by the World Health Assembly (see resolution WHA 53.14 adopted in May 2000).

Amongst the issues of particular relevance concerning HIV/AIDS from a gender perspective are: the impact of HIV/AIDS on human security; the need for elimination of discrimination against women and girls affected and infected by HIV/AIDS; expanded support for women living with HIV/AIDS, including food security for households affected by the pandemic; improved access to basic health care for those experiencing multiple infections that accompany the disease; sensitization and training for public health, public security officials (police) and other officials responsible for development and enforcement of policies and regulations to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls to infection.

II. Objectives and outputs

It is the objective of this Expert Group Meeting to contribute to a better understanding of the interplay between gender and the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to provide input to the report of the Secretary General on this subject to the Commission on the Status of Women. To accomplish this objective, the Expert Group Meeting will discuss issues related to human rights and HIV/AIDS and the economic, health, social and security impact of HIV/AIDS in various regions. This will include consideration of women’s subordination and vulnerability to discrimination which increase their risk of HIV infection. The meeting will give particular attention to the situation of women both "infected" and "affected". The role of men vis à vis HIV/AIDS will also be discussed.

The output of the meeting will include a set of recommendations for the consideration of the Commission on the Status of Women which will address both the content of such policies and the processes through which governments could develop their national gender approaches to combating HIV/AIDS. The Expert Group Meeting will focus on the necessity of defining strategies and a multi-sectorial approach to combating HIV/AIDS.

The examination of good practices of effective prevention which have resulted, inter alia, in a decrease of infection will be a cross-cutting theme. Of particular importance will be the participation of experts from all regions who will feed their experience and competence into the debate and bring the results of the Expert Group Meeting back home.

Discussion in the Expert Group Meeting will be clustered around two primary issues which are interlinked:

HIV/AIDS as a human security issue: a gender perspective

The meeting will consider human security in a broad manner including its gender impact on women and men from the local and national levels to the global level. The AIDS pandemic, through its differential impact on women and men and by overwhelming health services, decimating the working populations and creating millions of orphans, is causing social and economic crises and obstacles to development, and sustainability of life. A critical element in fostering stability particularly in the countries most affected by AIDS is an enabling environment that will proactively address the obstacles to gender equality and the enjoyment of social and economic rights by all. The meeting will also discuss emerging new roles for the survivors of the disease and the political and social mobilization needed to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls.

Prevention, treatment and care in the context of human rights

The meeting will consider discrimination against women and girls and violation of their rights in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and give particular attention to the human rights aspects of their need for and access to information, treatment and care, both for themselves and for others for whom they may be caring. Particular attention will be given to:

  • the "added value" of the human rights approach to make prevention, care and treatment more effective (focusing on issues such as stigmatization and discrimination of women living with AIDS, discrimination in access to treatment and drugs etc.);
  • care providers both in terms of gender and human rights (focusing on professional careers, home care by women and girls etc.);
  • policies and programmes to promote women’s empowerment to reduce their vulnerability to infection.

Emphasis will be put on the specific situation of adolescents and girls.

III. Methods of Work

The Expert Group Meeting will look into the various topics and develop a framework for a gender approach to the issue of HIV/AIDS. Consultants will be invited to prepare background papers on the themes of the EGM to serve as conceptual framework for the discussion. Experts will be invited to prepare inputs on specified issues or case studies in line with their expertise. The Expert Group Meeting will work in plenary session and in smaller working groups based on the major issues identified.

IV. Profile of Participants

The Expert Group Meeting will be attended by two consultants and 10-12 experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as observers from Governments, entities of the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. The United Nations will provide travel and daily subsistence allowance for the experts and consultants. In selecting the experts and consultants, the criteria of geographical and gender balance will be respected. The participants will be drawn from a variety of fields and expertise.

V. Documentation

The documentation for the meeting will include two background papers commissioned by the Division for the Advancement of Women, the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and prepared by the consultants, which will outline the major issues to be discussed. It will also include inputs prepared by experts on the various topics identified. Observers will be invited to contribute inputs from their own perspectives. The Expert Group Meeting will be conducted in English only. The documentation will also be in English.

All relevant correspondence should be addressed to:

Ms. Dorota Gierycz
Chief, Gender Analysis Section
Division for the Advancement of Women
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations, DC2-1244
New York, NY 10017 U.S.A.

Fax: (212) 963-3463