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Gender Equality Will Reduce Women’s Vulnerability To Hiv – First Lady   
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First Lady of the Republic of Ghana, H.E. Mrs Rebecca Naa Okaikor Akufo-Addo has urged African leaders and the international community to approach the fight against gender inequality more aggressively to reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS on the African continent and beyond.

According to her, gender-based discrimination significantly increased women’s vulnerability to being infected with HIV and AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted diseases (STDs) and also reduced their ability to protect themselves.

The First Lady was speaking on the question “How does gender inequality increase women’s vulnerability to HIV?” at a satellite-symposia organised by the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) on the side-lines of the 20th International Conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa (ICASA) underway in Kigali, Rwanda.

The six-day conference, under the theme “AIDS-Free Africa- Innovation, Community, and Political Leadership” is being attended by over 1000 delegates from across Africa and beyond including some of the world’s leading scientists, policymakers, activists, Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV), government leaders as well as international partners such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Global Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF among others.

Highlighting some ways by which the absence of gender equality leading to female vulnerability catalyzes HIV and AIDS infection and transmission, Mrs Akufo-Addo mentioned limited or lack of education for female children due to household poverty which in turn limited their economic viability and ability to make informed decisions and choices.

She said girls from poorer backgrounds were more likely to engage in jobs to improve the family income but in the end, due to their vulnerability, were sometimes raped as they engaged with casual sex partners like employers and other financial supporters, thereby exposing them to HIV.

Early marriage, the First Lady said, was also another way of exposing young girls to HIV and STI’s as they were married off most often to elderly men who were already infected or had multiple sexual partners.

Mrs Akufo-Addo called for the concentration of efforts in educating the girl child while providing income-generation training for young girls and women to make them self-reliant.

Stating some initiatives that she as the First Lady of Ghana was implementing to help halt the issue of women and girls vulnerability in her country, Mrs Akufo-Addo said ‘The Rebecca Foundation’ of which she was the Executive Director had introduced the ‘Terema Initiative’, ‘Because I want to be’ and ‘Learning to read, reading to learn’ among others, to empower children to acquire quality education while young girls and women are supported with income-generating activities to make them more self-sustaining wherever they found themselves.

Other First Ladies including the First Lady of the Botswana, Mrs Neo Jane Masisi, the First Lady of Chad, Mrs Hinda Deby Itno and the First Lady of Rwanda, Mrs Jeannette Kagame all called for sustainable ways of ensuring that women and girls in Africa were given the needed push economically to help them make informed decisions when it came to their sexual health.

The 2019 ICASA conference is aimed at promoting community, scientific, and technological innovations for ending AIDS as well as advocate for financing sustainable national health responses, political leadership, and accountability.

The conference also aims to promote a youth-driven and youth-friendly approach for an AIDS-free generation.

At the end of the conference, it will advocate for strengthened health systems and multi-sectoral collaboration to integrate co-morbidities, emerging infections and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) as well as focus on rethinking gender norms, human rights-based approaches and inclusion towards equitable and accessible HIV and AIDS services including Key Populations (KPs) such as Female Sex Workers (FSW).
Source: Peacefmonline.com

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