#SheDecides – a movement for women’s empowerment for HIV prevention
Avert CEO, Sarah Hand, reflects on the wider role of #SheDecides for HIV and global development, one year on from its launch.
The power of She Decides is its emphasis on gender equality and gender empowerment. It's a movement born out women recognising their sexual and reproductive health rights in the era of the Global Gag. She Decides also links these rights with the wider Sustainable Development Goals, including HIV prevention.
Around the world, 45 young women are infected with HIV every hour. The majority of these women live in poorer regions of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where three-quarters of young women don’t have a say in decisions regarding their health. It’s a sad consequence that young women and girls account for three-quarters of HIV infections among 15-19 year olds in sub-Saharan Africa.
We can break down the cycle of new HIV infections, but we have to look well beyond just how HIV is acquired to succeed. We need to look to movements and initiatives, such as She Decides, that dig at the root causes and create a movement of solidarity among those who are most at risk.
The drivers of gender inequality faced by girls and women are many and varied. It’s no coincidence that a number of the countries with the largest and most entrenched HIV epidemics are also those with the worst levels of gender inequality.
But we know that where she decides for herself, a young girl would opt for a life where she has chances, opportunity and the freedom to make her own decisions.
As far as HIV is concerned, we know that when she decides (and she has access to up-to-date, relevant sexual health information such as that provided on Avert.org) many new opportunities open up to reduce the number of new HIV infections.
Staying in school for a decent education is one of the biggest ways to reduce her chances of HIV infection (and improve life chances) – combined with knowledge and access to tools that are readily available to her such as condoms, peer support groups, and pre-exposure prophylaxis in an increasing number of locations.
When she decides she can also be sufficiently economically empowered to avoid transactional sex. She is likely to be in an environment where her first sexual contact will be with someone in her own age group. And she will have avoided the coerced sex that so often arises due to gender power imbalances.
Put simply, when she decides, she is empowered to create her own future.
We need to make sure that every girl and young woman has the knowledge and freedom to make that future one that is free of HIV.