Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 88% of the world;s 2,6 million HIV-Positive children. In 2014, there were an estimated 93,430 new infections amongst children (ages 0–14) and 104,000 amongst adolescents (15–19 years) in Eastern and Southern Africa (UNICEF, 2015d). 72% of these new adolescent infections were girls (UNAIDS, 2015). Evidence has indicated that economic-disparities, and intergenerational sex are key contributors to adolescent girls and young women’s vulnerability to HIV infection. Coupled with unequal gender norms that limit women’s power to negotiate safer sex or to protect themselves from violence, these factors are associated with higher age-specific HIV prevalence among adolescent girls in Eastern and Southern Africa (RIATT-ESA, 2016). Addressing the gendered vulnerabilities of HIV-positive adolescents girls is therefore paramount to ending the AIDS epidemic.
The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, on 11 October, “Girls Progress = Goal’s Progress: A global Girl Data Movement” is a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data. One year into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, improving data on girls and addressing the issues that are holding them back is critical for fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is certain is that gender inequality is powerfully associated with sexual risk taking behaviours amongst young girls. But more evidence is needed on the types of social protection that works best for Girls. We need a better understanding of the relationships between HIV prevention, healthcare access and gender inequalities, and how they are articulate with poverty and other factors. Future research and programming must answer the questions of what works best, for whom, under which circumstances and most cost effectively (RIATT-ESA, 2016).
“Learners, they engage in risky behaviours because they want money. They have relationships with older people because they are working… A learner wants bread at the end of the day, so she must be involved sexually with taxi drivers so that she can get money. Those are the things that are happening outside of the school, but the results impacted on the performance of that learner at school… Poverty is playing a big role in making these learners have HIV and AIDS.” (Female, HIV programme coordinator)
Click here to read how cash transfers can halve HIV risk behaviours.