The 53rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is taking place at the United Nations from March 2-13. Every CSW has a theme; this year it is “the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”
I represent Sonke Gender Justice, a South and Southern African non-governmental organization that works with men and boys across South and Southern Africa to prevent gender based violence, reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS, and promote gender equality and social justice.
I propose three strategies for reducing the burden of care currently borne disproportionately by women and girls—especially in the context of HIV and AIDS:
Governments must reduce the total burden by increasing and improving public sector services—especially health services. We have to rethink and challenge some of the neo-liberal orthodoxies that have forced many developing world countries to privatize state resources, slash public sector spending and implement user fees. The current economic crisis provides us with an important opportunity to reorganize our priorities and commit to lifting the debilitating burden borne by women and girls.
Reduce the AIDS related burden of care by preventing new infections and by ensuring that all who need them have access to AIDS treatment. In my country, South Africa, huge strides have been made to address the treatment backlog caused by government inaction in the first part of this decade. Now, nearly 500,000 people are on treatment. However, according to the South African National AIDS Council fully 75% of people who need treatment in South Africa still do not have it. At present, no new patients are being enrolled in treatment in the Free State Province due to a stock-out of anti-retroviral treatment. Across the continent the majority of women who need access to prevention of mother to child transmission still do not have access to it. This has to change if we are to reduce the burden of HIV related care.
Expand work with men and boys for gender equality. We have strong evidence that work with men and boys can make a difference in preventing gender based violence and in addressing some of the risk factors for HIV infection. Sonke’s One Man Can Campaign increases men’s use of HIV testing and treatment and supports men to challenge gender based violence. Unfortunately, very few of these interventions are being implemented at a scale that might make a difference. The same is also true of male circumcision which rigorous randomized control trials show offer 60% protection against HIV and AIDS. The evidence suggests this is one of the most effective HIV prevention strategies available to us yet few countries are implementing it at a scale that could make a difference. We need to make use of male circumcision as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy and ensure that we integrate education about gender equality into male circumcision services.
The UN system has played a leadership role in efforts to involve men and boys and must be applauded for its visionary work. The Secretary General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women is an example of this leadership and certainly deserves our full support. The United Nations Development Programme’s work across Asia to implement a regional, multi-agency initiative is another laudable example that should be widely replicated.
Dean Peacock works with the Sonke Gender Justice Network in South Africa.