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On World AIDS Day, 1 December 2011, the World YWCA joins the global community in the call to “Get to Zero" - zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths. 

Although there are encouraging signs regarding progress in the response to HIV with the rate of new HIV infections declining globally [UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report, 2011], the total number of HIV infections remains high at about 7,000 per day. The proportion of women living with HIV remains at 50% globally, with higher rates in sub-Saharan Africa (59%) and the Caribbean (53%). Recent evidence also suggests that young women make up 61% of all new infections among young people aged 15-24 years. AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death and disease for women of reproductive age in low and middle income countries. Gender-based violence has been identified as a significant driver of HIV infection among women in some regions of the world. According to UNAIDS, women who have experienced violence are up to three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those who have not.

HIV is a global priority for the World YWCA movement, which reaches more than 25 million women and girls in 125 countries.  In over 70 countries worldwide, YWCAs are engaged in advocacy, programmes and services to secure women's sexual and reproductive health and rights and respond to HIV and AIDS. This first-hand experience in the realities facing women and girls in communities worldwide makes the World YWCA a vital partner in the global response to HIV and AIDS and informs the World YWCA's global advocacy engagement. At the recent World YWCA International Women’s Summit held in July 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland, the importance of women's leadership in the response to HIV and AIDS was reaffirmed, and YWCAs committed to provide comprehensive SRHR and HIV programmes and services to women and girls; to ensure YWCAs are safe, inclusive and empowering spaces for women and girls living with HIV; and to challenge harmful cultural norms and practices that continue to put women at risk of HIV infection.

For the World YWCA, Getting to Zero requires mobilising the effective leadership of women and especially young women. Such transformative leadership will contribute towards informed decision making by women and to changing harmful behaviours and practices that violate women's human rights, as well as enable effective policies and laws on SRHR and HIV that are responsive to the realities of women's lives.  Investment in young women also offers a unique opportunity to change the course of the HIV epidemic and stop new infections.

Getting to Zero also requires investing in SRHR and HIV programmes that address the specific needs of women and girls in all their diversity and recognising stigma and discrimination, human rights violations and gender-based violence as barriers to successful programmes outcomes.

As we commit to Getting to Zero, the World YWCA draws specific attention to the following priorities for women and girls around the world:

1. Expand access to safe reproductive health services and family planning for women to make informed decisions about their bodies

Recent global efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 and to scale-up access to treatment attest to the critical importance of investing in SRHR, especially for young women. All women must enjoy their sexual rights to decide when, where, how and with whom they choose to have sexual experiences, and have information about how to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Women’s reproductive rights must also be respected, including the right to make informed decisions about starting a family. It is a woman’s right to choose if and when she has children, including the number and spacing. It is unacceptable that women continue to die as a result of unsafe pregnancy. The full enjoyment of reproductive rights also means women having the freedom to make informed decisions about contraception and birthing methods, including women living with HIV.

2. Support programmes that empower young women with access to comprehensive and age-appropriate sexuality education and services

Knowledge about HIV is the first step to avoiding its transmission. Yet, many young women remain unprotected, vulnerable, unduly affected and at risk of STIs and HIV. Young women participating in some YWCA's safe space forums have raised concern that HIV remains a social problem. Despite great medical achievements, factors such as their inability to claim sexual and reproductive health rights or access services, pervasive violence against women, harmful traditional practices, and limited access to education, economic rights, legal rights and decision making, leave the majority of young women vulnerable to infection through unsafe sex, rape and sexual violence, which results in unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, reproductive health complications and exposure to STIs and HIV.

3. Provide safe, inclusive and empowering spaces for people living with HIV and affirm the equal dignity of all human beings

Women and young women around the world demand dignity. As stigma continues to drive the epidemic and prevents people from accessing treatment and support, successful interventions must support people to get tested for HIV, know their status, access support structures and enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights without fear of prejudice or discrimination. YWCA programming in Tanzania reveals that stigma continues to exist even among communities who are aware of their rights and already accessing treatment. They have reported cases of mothers who have told their children not to disclose their HIV status to peers and relatives.

HIV programmes and policies need to better address the specific realities and needs of women and girls, and respect and protect their human rights. HIV services providing essential sexual and reproductive health care remain insufficient with continued reports of women living with HIV being pressured, and sometimes forced, not to have children as a requirement for AIDS treatment. During a workshop at the International Women's Summit, a young woman living with HIV shared her distress when she lost her son and was advised not to have any more children. She spoke globally for other young women and called upon service providers to respect and protect the rights of women living with HIV to live a normal life and have the choice and support to have children without HIV.

4. Ensure adequate resources to deliver on commitments to gender equality, human rights and HIV and AIDS, including expanded access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for women, including women living with HIV.

As part of Getting to Zero, the World YWCA calls upon the world’s governments to increase investment in SRHR and HIV programmes that work for women and young women. Governments must be accountable for developing appropriate policies and allocating sufficient resources to advance women's leadership, empowerment and rights, in line with global commitments. Governments around the world must address gender inequality and the status of women in society, which are two important drivers of HIV infection rates.  This must go beyond rhetoric and include adequate resourcing for interventions targeting women and girls.

Present in 125 countries, in 22,000 communities and with an outreach of 25 million women and girls, the World YWCA movement has over 20 years of extensive community and global interventions on HIV prevention, care and support, with YWCAs in over 70 countries implementing programmes on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV and AIDS