Celebrating International Women’s Day by Investing in Women and Girls

March 14, 2012
Social Worker Holds Earrings in Form of AIDS Symbol

As we observe Women's History Month throughout March, we celebrate the work pioneered by advocates, policymakers, and practitioners around the world to advance women's rights. Promoting the rights of women and addressing gender inequities and gender norms are essential steps to reducing HIV risk and increasing access to HIV prevention, care and treatment services -- for both women and men.

The Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues (S/GWI) and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are committed to advancing the rights and health of women and girls around the world. Under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the United States has put women and girls front and center in the three pillars of our foreign policy -- diplomacy, development, and defense. This is embodied in a number of Presidential and policy directives, such as the interagency Global Health Initiative, which includes a central focus on women, girls and gender equality.

Today, at the National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day event at the White House, we announced a joint S/GWI and PEPFAR initiative. We will support civil society organizations with small grants to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV), with a link to HIV prevention, treatment or care. Through this partnership, we will provide over $4.6 million in small grants to grassroots organizations in countries with a PEPFAR presence, leveraging our respective platforms in the field and creating links to address the drivers of both violence and HIV.

The White House also released a Presidential Memorandum establishing a working group to explore the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender-related health disparities in the United States -- and will include lessons learned from our international work in this area. This is a prime example of our Administration's commitment to advancing the agenda for women and girls, and to addressing the link between violence and health disparities, here at home.

As we move forward globally, we will continue to focus on several key objectives -- including reducing GBV and coercion; engaging men and boys to address norms and behavior; increasing women and girls' legal protection; increasing women and girls' access to income and productive resources, including education; and ensuring gender equity in HIV/AIDS programs and services, including access to reproductive health services.

We have made significant investments to address gender as a central focus of our foreign policy and development goals, in close partnership with other U.S. agencies, partner governments, civil society, and the private sector. For example, over the last two years, PEPFAR has invested close to $155 million in responding to GBV. We have also been a big supporter of working to help identify female-controlled prevention methods, investing more than $90 million dollars over the last two years in microbicide research. And, since 2004, we have supplied over 55 million female condoms -- making PEPFAR one of the largest procurers of female condoms worldwide. S/GWI has made over $5.5 million in small grants to organizations around the world working on issues from economic empowerment to GBV to political participation and leadership. From mainstreaming gender throughout all programs, to special gender initiatives at the country level, the United States is making a difference in the lives of women and girls.

We are also partners in the Together for Girls initiative -- a unique partnership that brings together public, private, United Nations and U.S. agencies to address sexual violence against children, particularly girls. In Tanzania, for example, the first nationally representative survey of violence against children in 2010 found that nearly three in ten females and one in seven males experienced sexual violence prior to the age of 18. Such evidence will be used to inform future programming and guide policy priorities -- including in Kenya, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Haiti, with future work planned in additional countries.

We are starting to see results on the ground. In 2011, PEPFAR supported post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection for survivors of sexual violence to over 47,000 people, nearly 34 percent more than the year before.

There is still much work ahead. But the remarkable achievements to date give us hope for the future.

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