Women and Adolescent Girls on the Fast Track to Ending the AIDS Epidemic
High-Level Side Event
at the 69th World Health Assembly
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva
Monday, May 23, 2016
(AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY)
Thank you, Annemarie. I would like to thank our host, First Lady De Varela, my fellow panelists, and the missions that made this event possible.
I know my time is short, so let me get straight to the point: If we are to truly get on the fast track to ending the AIDS epidemic – we need to surround adolescent girls and young women with support and services in every part of their lives.
When a girl is raped…when she is ashamed to get tested…when she is married early…gets pregnant early…when she is stigmatized…when she has no access to contraception…can’t stay in school…can’t stay healthy…that girl is in danger.
And that is why I launched a cross-cutting initiative last year called The Future She Deserves, with one of its key pillars focused on adolescent girls. Over the past year, we have been working hard across Geneva to mobilize support for this especially vulnerable population.
And that is also why, through the DREAMS partnership, PEPFAR is committed to helping girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe young women. DREAMS combines high-impact, evidence-based approaches that go beyond the health sector – developing comprehensive solutions to tackle the structural drivers that put girls and women at greater risk for HIV infection — including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence and lack of education.
The United States has an ambitious goal: the first AIDS-free generation. So we have set an ambitious target: to decrease new HIV infections in adolescent girls living in the highest-burden areas of 10 African countries by 40% by the end of 2017.
A sustained commitment to girls’ education is necessary if we are to meet this target. Through PEPFAR, we’re organizing conferences for school age girls, where HIV/AIDS, gender roles, women’s rights, and domestic abuse are openly discussed; and girls are taught to think critically about their choice of partners. The girls take home what they learn and teach their friends and fellow students. As a result, these conferences save lives, often way beyond their initial reach.
Investing in girls’ education is key to enabling young women to live the lives they deserve. A girl with an education can shape her own destiny, lift up her family, and transform her community. Education is one of the main objectives of the DREAMS initiative, of other U.S. initiatives like Let Girls Learn and, of course, of the first-ever U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls that was launched just two months ago.
First Lady Michelle Obama summed up the need for this global strategy saying, “…when girls are young, they are often seen simply as children. But when they hit adolescence…and are suddenly subject to all of their societies’ biases about gender… they start to fall behind in their education…we need to have an honest conversation about how we view and treat women in our societies…and this conversation needs to happen in every country on this planet, including my own.”
I’m sure you all agree that adolescence is a precarious period in a girl’s life, when significant physical, emotional, and social changes shape her future. But adolescence is also an ideal point to leverage development and diplomacy efforts…to break the cycles of poverty and violence, to keep girls in school, to invest in their future…and if you join me in doing so, I am confident we can put women and girls on the fast track to ending the AIDS epidemic in the very near future.