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International Womens Day

Breaking barriers - investing in the future of women and girls

Joint Statement by UNAIDS and UNFPA East and Southern Africa on International Women’s Day 2024

As the world commemorates International Women's Day on March 8th, we stand united in celebrating the remarkable achievements of women and girls across the globe.

This year's theme, “Invest in Women,” underscores the importance of meaningfully working together to advance gender equality and empowering women and girls in all spheres of life.

We have made significant strides in investing in education and health, two crucial foundations which reinforce each other and upon which gender equality can be built. Today, we proudly acknowledge that there are 50 million more girls in school compared to 2015. Although much work remains, this achievement signifies progress towards equal access to education, which is a fundamental human right that lays the foundation for a brighter future for generations to come.

Education is not only about acquiring knowledge; it is a catalyst for empowerment and social change. By keeping girls in school and providing them with comprehensive sexuality education, we equip them with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their health and well-being, to prevent unintended pregnancies, HIV and STIs. It is essential to recognize that the right to education is intricately linked to the broader agenda of gender equality and women's empowerment.

Likewise, investments in health underpin girls’ ability to thrive. Tremendous progress has been made in the response to the global AIDS epidemic which, two decades ago, seemed unstoppable. In many countries of the region new HIV infections have declined from 2010. But the crisis is far from over. Two thirds of adolescents living with HIV globally reside in Eastern and Southern Africa, and women and girls account for 63 per cent of all new infections.

Gender inequalities and harmful gender norms contribute significantly to the ability of women and girls to claim their right to bodily autonomy. Only 55% of women reported having the freedom to determine if and when they want to start a family. Additionally, many women continue to experience gender-based violence daily. In Southern Africa, a shocking 17% of women and girls have experienced intimate partner violence in the last 12 months and more than 8% have experienced sexual violence by someone who is not an intimate partner. This lack of autonomy directly impacts women and girls’ capacity to protect themselves from HIV transmission.
Addressing the structural barriers which threaten the health, safety, dignity and life aspirations of adolescent girls and young women requires a multifaceted approach to address poverty, racism, gender-based violence, harmful gender norms, stigma, and discrimination. We must invest in gender equality and empowering women and girls to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

2gether 4 SRHR, a programme implemented by UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO with support from the Government of Sweden, is working to strengthen efforts to ensure that the rights of every woman and girl are protected. The programme is investigating the gender and social norms that are impeding progress, while exploring approaches to engage men and boys as partners and champions in the effort to advance women's rights.

On this International Women's Day, and every day, let us re-ignite our collective commitment to invest in a world where every woman and girl can thrive, stay healthy and in school, thereby unlocking her boundless potential. We are in this together - breaking down barriers, challenging stereotypes, and building a more inclusive and equitable world where everyone, regardless of gender, has equal access to health, dignity and opportunity.

Let us make this International Women’s Day count.

Regional Director, UNAIDS Eastern and Southern Africa

Regional Director, UNFPA East and Southern Africa

2gether 4 SRHR is a joint UN regional programme with the goal of fast-tracking the attainment of sexual and reproductive health and rights in East and Southern Africa. The programme launched in 2018 and is implemented by UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, in partnership with the Swedish Government (Sida).