World AIDS Day 2021: Confronting gender inequality to end AIDS

This year we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the first reported AIDS case. On World AIDS Day, it's remarkable to think about how far we've come—and how far we still have to go to ensure that women who face the risk of HIV infection are empowered with the range of tools they need to protect their health. 

Both COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS have shown us that not addressing inequalities can significantly impact billions of lives. As the world shifted its focus to the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV continued to disproportionately affect women. Every day, more than 1,800 women globally continue to acquire HIV. There are many reasons why women and girls have difficulty accessing health care, including discrimination, violence and lack of information.

Women's empowerment, including providing them with the knowledge, support and practical tools necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health, must be a priority in any effort to achieve the global health and gender equality goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. Women who are empowered and healthy are better positioned to protect their children's health and education, as well as to contribute to their communities' social and economic well-being.

One way to empower women against HIV is to offer them a range of prevention choices, including ones they can control themselves. This year, we took a major step with the WHO’s recommendation for IPM’s monthly dapivirine vaginal ring, and approvals for the ring by African countries represent an important next step forward in the worldwide effort to expand women's HIV prevention options. 

Coordination and financing from global partners are critical to ensure the ring reaches women who need it and that the long-acting method is added to a comprehensive HIV prevention portfolio that can better meet women’s diverse needs. As we enter the fifth decade of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we must continue to press forward—honoring the millions of women who have died and fighting for the women who need new prevention choices now and the generations to come. 

Have a happy, healthy World AIDS Day.