DR. ARUN KASHYAP // Opening Ceremony of GLOBAL VALIDATION & LESSONS LEARNED WORKSHOP of Support for Gender Equality in the Context of HIV/AIDS

Jul 30, 2013

• Honourable Dr. Fenton Ferguson, Minister of Health
• ORUS BAGUENA Jesus (EEAS-KINGSTON) EU Delegation to Jamaica
• Ms. Nazneen Damji, UN Women Global Advisor
• Christine Arab, UN Women Representative for the Caribbean
• (Implementing partners from Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Kenya and Rwanda)
• Representatives from the United Nations Country Team
• Ladies & Gentlemen, a very good morning to all of you.

On behalf of the United Nations System in Jamaica, it is a pleasure for me to join you at the Global Validation and Lessons Learned Workshop to support Gender Equality in the context of HIV and AIDS.   I would take the opportunity to extend a warm Jamaica welcome to all the visiting participants to this beautiful country.

We are grateful to the European Commission for supporting this significant and a pioneering initiative through the UN Women Global Programme in five countries globally, including Jamaica.  I congratulate UN Women on the important work they have done in implementing this programme. I am confident, that it will lead to future evidence-based programmatic strategies to integrate gender equality into national HIV responses.  In fact, it would inspire the resource allocation strategy of the Global Fund - especially in HIV-AIDS priority countries as they refine the process.  I am very appreciative of Government of Jamaica’s partnership in co-hosting this workshop with UN Women.

We have been encouraged by the UNAIDS 2012 Report that there has been more than a 50% reduction in new HIV infections across 25 low- and middle-income countries – more than half of it in Africa that is  the region most affected by HIV. Globally, the pace of the progress in tackling the HIV/AIDS problem is quickening - as what used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months. This increased progress can be attributed in part to more countries assuming shared responsibility and increasing domestic investments, despite a difficult economic climate.  However, even with this positive global trend, a lot of work is needed to tackle the HIV/AIDS problem in Jamaica.

As my colleagues from UN Women continue to remind me and justifiably so, while HIV/AIDS is a health issue, the epidemic is a gender issue.  HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls who are socially, culturally, biologically, and economically more vulnerable.  Apparently, only a third of adolescents worldwide know how to prevent HIV; for instance millions of young women go into marriage without even the basic knowledge of sexuality and reproduction. 

Gender inequality is a major driver of the epidemic in Jamaica, compounded by poverty, stigma and discrimination.  HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls who are socially, culturally, biologically, and economically more vulnerable.  The asymmetrical characterization of masculinity and femininity in the Caribbean societies, including Jamaica, supplemented by the prevailing sexual norms (early sexual initiation and multiple partners for men, etc.) considerably impact women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. Unequal power relations between men and women continue to position women in subordinate socio-economic and political roles, and prevent them from exercising their rights.

Women in Jamaica - as is also true in a large proportion of all countries worldwide - are prevented from negotiating safer sex.  Additionally they are vulnerable to gender-based violence and high-risk behaviour that exacerbates the spread of HIV.  Unfortunately and not surprisingly, girls between the ages of 13 and 15 throughout the Caribbean region have a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS than boys their age, indicating that inter-generational sex, and the power dynamics inherent within these relationships further increase the vulnerability of young women and girls.

Gender inequality significantly impacts achievement of inclusive development.  It is indeed a sad truth that significantly lagging progress towards the MDGs can be directly correlated to according low priority to the needs and status of girls.  Efforts to promote gender equality, including promoting girls’ education, improving maternal health, combating gender-based violence, and securing female representation in government leadership positions, are critical to advancing sustainable human development.

The 2013 Human Development Report – the flagship report of UNDP that was recently launched in Jamaica shows Jamaica’s Human Deveopment Index value at 0.730 positioning the country at 85 out of 187 countries and territories. When the value is discounted for gender inequality, the HDI falls to 0.591, indicating a loss of 19.1% in the value of human development.  The Gender Inequality Index reflects gender-based inequalities in reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. The high level of gender inequity in Jamaica shows that there is a need to restructure relevant policies and programmes to ensure that gender issues are integrated in policy formulation.

The issue of gender inequality also reverberates in the treatment of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities, who find themselves as outliers in communities where they live.  They are subjected to stigma and discrimination, which worsens if they are also HIV positive. In addition to denial of access to housing, employment, schooling and health care, they often lack access to medicines and medical services.  It is imperative that gender diversity and gender equality is understood and accommodated in the development of all policies and programmes that promote inclusive development.

The prevention of mother to child transmission initiative in Jamaica has strong lessons that can provide insights into creating health system strategies and initiatives with a gendered approach.  For instance, the link between HIV testing as part of pre-natal clinic care has been responsible for the success of the programme.  A similar approach that targets men’s poor health-support-seeking habits through the creation of policies and programmes could assist in pursuing behaviour change in men - whereby they adopt greater responsibility for their own health but that is also beneficial to the health and treatment of women and girls.

The UN Country Team in Jamaica has joint activities on elimination of gender-based violence and violence against vulnerable communities (led by UN Women and UNFPA), which includes reducing the incidences of HIV/AIDS in the country, in the framework of human rights.  This includes for instance, synergies between the work of the UN Population Fund with adolescent health issues and sex workers, UNICEF’s strong emphasis and achievements in reducing mother to child transmission and reducing the vulnerability of the children, especially girls to HIV/AIDS, and excellent coordination of activities through improved understanding and strong advocacy to prevent HIV AIDS by UNAIDS; UNAIDS is also a funder of different government and NGO initiatives. UN Cares E-learning sessions have been delivered to 51 staff members within all UN Agencies that have hosted sensitization sessions to enhance a better understanding of issues related to stigma and discrimination.

UNDP has committed to promote ‘HIV and the Law’ through a project that advances the Enabling Environment component of the National HIV/STI Programme. It would ensure that all discriminatory laws and policies that are harmful to the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups, such as women and girls, are reviewed and revised through legal reform.  We are confident that strengthened legal structures will promote and enforce protective laws to reduce human rights violations against women and girls, and limit their exposure to this formidable virus.

In reviewing the gains made in treatment over the last decade it is remarkable that antiretroviral therapy has been a powerful influence in the saving of lives of HIV Positive persons in Jamaica, as has also been the case in other countries across the world. In the last 24 months, the numbers of people across the world accessing treatment has increased by 63%.  As a result there were more than half a million fewer deaths in 2011 than in 2005.  We are planning to build upon this progress by exploring innovative public private partnerships in Jamaica, developing national capacity to negotiate cost of drugs to a reasonable price, while also ensuring that the laws are in place to allow people to benefit from access to generic medication.

With declining external funding of HIV/AIDS programmes, the UN agencies undertaking the joint programmes are strategically aligned to fulfil the achievement of the components of the National Strategic Plan. We are also ensuring that there is a greater collaboration between international donors, civil society groups and government agencies, which includes exploring formulation of a Development Effectiveness programme for Jamaica.

In closing, under the EC-supported UN Women Programme, the work in Jamaica has further catalysed the drive towards gender equality, and the empowerment of women, through:

• Recognising women as equal and legitimate partners, by ensuring that they have a voice at the decision-making fora especially on matters directly affecting them;
• Ensuring opportunities for the participation of women and girls living with HIV as ‘agents of change’, to guide planning and implementation responses to AIDS, including through access to evidence-based and comprehensive responses grounded in the experiences of women and girls; and
• Empowering women economically through entrepreneurship and finance management trainings, to reduce their economic dependence, and increase their ability to negotiate safer sex.

As we strive to reach the Millennium Development Goals, the 2015 targets of the UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, and formulate the Post 2015 Agenda – the future we want for All, we have to be strategic and prepared to build innovative partnerships to guarantee greater success in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Jamaica including by guaranteeing gender equality.

We are confident that by strengthening collaboration amongst all stakeholders, viz., the Jamaican society, Government, private sector and the International development partners, it would be possible to successfully eradicate HIV/AIDS and achieve the shared vision of ‘zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths’.

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