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UN official urges world leaders to make women's role central to anti-AIDS fight

UN official urges world leaders to make women's role central to anti-AIDS fight

Issuing a call to action just days before a General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, a senior UN development official today said women must be central to every strategy to fight the pandemic.

"There is a direct correlation between women's low status, the violation of their human rights and HIV transmission," said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). "This is not simply a matter of social justice -- gender inequality is fatal."

Ms. Heyzer outlined five areas for action: guaranteeing women's equal access to prevention and treatment, making research gender-sensitive, educating and informing women and girls, addressing broader problems of gender inequality, and dealing with HIV transmission in conflict situations.

In issuing her call, the UNIFEM Executive Director cited "alarming" statistics on the pandemic, including the fact that last year, 1.3 million women died of AIDS. Nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, teenage girls are five times more likely to be infected than boys, while surveys in 17 countries found that over half of all girls could not name a single method of protection against HIV transmission.

"It is time for the AIDS community to join hands with the international women's community to hold governments accountable," Ms. Heyzer said.

The General Assembly special session, set to run from 25 to 27 June, is expected to adopt a global action plan for fighting the disease.