Women’s leadership key to building stronger and fairer societies

Women leaders have guided the world in its response to the COVID-19 crisis – from the majority of frontline health workers and from heads of government to coordinators of grassroots social movements. They reminded the world how crucial it is to have a critical number of women, in all their diversity, in leadership positions.

The COVID-19 crisis has seen progress towards equality pushed back. It has widened the gap between women and men in wealth, income, access to services, unpaid care burden, status and power.

Globally, there has been a dramatic increase in violence against women. In Nigeria, at the height of the lockdown in 2020, reported cases of gender-based violence increased dramatically, and states like Lagos tripled.

Up to 20 million more secondary-age girls could end up out of school as a result of the crisis. Up to 2.5 million more girls are at risk of child marriage.

Pandemics like COVID-19 and HIV amplify fissures in society and exacerbate vulnerabilities.

Even before COVID-19, over 7.9 million girls were out of school in Nigeria. In sub-Saharan Africa, 4,500 adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 are infected with HIV every week. In Nigeria, young women between the ages of 20 and 24 have HIV prevalence rates four times higher than their male counterparts.

Post-COVID-19 recovery strategies cannot be blind or gender-neutral: they must reverse the inequalities that hold women back.

UNAIDS works with allies around the world to fight all forms of discrimination against women and to support women’s groups to claim equality – in access to services, income and rights at work, representation in decision-making and status.

Together, my sister leaders from UN Women, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNFPA and I have convened a broad movement called Education Plus to work with governments to ensure the transformative changes that will empower all adolescent girls in Africa to be in school and safe. and strong.

We know that completing secondary school halves a girl’s vulnerability to HIV infection.

Education Plus catalyzes commitments to provide girls with free secondary education in a violence-free environment, while giving them access to comprehensive sexuality education, links to sexual and reproductive health services, and support for gender transition. school to work to advance the economic empowerment of young women. .

To overcome the COVID-19 crisis and end new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths, we must tackle the inequalities that fuel vulnerabilities.

In the end, patriarchy is not good for anyone.

It weakens us all. We must therefore work to dismantle this oppressive system.

A more equal world will be better able to respond to pandemics and other shocks; it will leave us all healthier and safer.

The United Nations stands ready to help advance a world where women and girls, in all their diversity, will thrive and take their rightful place – as equals.

  • Winnie Byanyima is the Executive Director of UNAIDS

Mara R. Wilmoth