This week, we celebrate International Women's Day. According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 15-44, and nearly 60 percent of the people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Throughout the week, PEPFAR is highlighting its work in addressing gender and the needs of women in this epidemic.
PEPFAR is working to help girls and women lead healthier lives by uniting against gender-based violence (GBV). Studies from around the world have shown that GBV is a true global health crisis. The data are appalling: over 50 percent of women in Ethiopia and over 30 percent in Peru report experiencing GBV in the last 12 months; over 65 percent of girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and over 35 percent in Haiti report that their first sexual experience was coerced.
GBV prevents women and girls from engaging in safe sexual practices, from disclosing their HIV status, and from seeking care and treatment. In addition, women and girls living with HIV often live with the double burden of fearing violence due to both their gender and their HIV status.
In response to these twin epidemics, PEPFAR provided an estimated $68 million in bilateral support for GBV activities in more than 28 countries in FY 2010. In addition, PEPFAR is now investing in an intensified scale-up of the response to GBV in three countries -- the DRC, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Through these programs we plan to:
• Move beyond GBV pilots to significant scale-up;
• Support screening and counseling for GBV within HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs where appropriate;
• Support comprehensive GBV response packages at all health facilities that can help prevent HIV infection for those who have experienced sexual violence;
• Support GBV prevention programs to address the underlying causes of violence -- and work across sectors (education, police, judiciary, social services);
• Address policy and structural barriers;
• Advance the knowledge base through support for program and intervention evaluation and improve monitoring of activities.
I recently joined Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, on her visit to DRC. It was clear that all of the above are needed to curb both the HIV and GBV epidemics. In particular, I was struck at how aware women in the country are of the link between these two issues, and their call for more action from both their government and the international community.
I visited an HIV hotline that PEPFAR supports. Currently, the staff are only able to respond to approximately 30 percent of the almost 3,000 calls per day, and demand continues to grow. We heard from staff at the call center, most of whom are HIV-positive women, that women are increasingly calling to ask both about HIV and GBV services. Therefore, as part of the GBV scale-up through PEPFAR, the existing hotline will be expanded to respond to all incoming calls, as well as to incorporate answers and referrals to GBV in addition to HIV. It's a great example of a smart investment, stretching our dollars by leveraging our PEPFAR platform to meet another urgent need.
Beyond its contribution to the AIDS pandemic, GBV is simply unacceptable. By addressing both, PEPFAR is improving the status of women and preventing the spread of HIV. These are smart investments that save lives and contribute to a world where women and girls are healthy, safe, and valued.