Adolescent girls and young women account for 71 percent of new HIV infections among young people in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda reflects this disproportionality, with HIV prevalence among young people aged 15-24 estimated at 4.2% for women but only 2.4% for men. Likewise in Tanzania, a total of approximately 25,532 adolescent girls and young women become infected with HIV every year, and they are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men of the same age.
Adolescent girls and women are more vulnerable to HIV as they are often subjected to a range of gender- and age-based biases, discrimination and violence, including sexual assault, forced marriage and trafficking. Both adolescent girls and young women, and their communities, often lack the economic, social and cultural support and resources to assert their rights and bring about their own protection and well-being.
Recognizing the need for urgent action, DREAMS, an ambitious $385 million public -private partnership, has invested $85 million to support innovative solutions from 56 organizations, among them IDLO, to infuse new thinking and approaches to meet the urgent, complex needs of adolescent girls and young women.
IDLO recently conducted inception missions to Uganda and Tanzania as part of the project startup. The objective of the visits was to establish relationships with local NGO partners, government officials and other key stakeholders in the fields of HIV/AIDS, gender and justice. The inception visits served to develop effective project workplans aimed at strengthening community-level HIV services for adolescent girls and young women in the respective countries.
Under the IDLO DREAMS initiative, adolescent girls, young women and their communities will be supported through legal service referrals, legal aid funds and other activities aimed at securing broader public support for gender and health rights. The two year long project to be implemented in Uganda and Tanzania, is funded by ViiV Healthcare.
At the opening of a stakeholders’ roundtable meeting, Moses Mulumba, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), IDLO’s implementing partner in Uganda’s districts of Gomba and Mukono, applauded all participating institutions on coming together to address systemic gender inequalities and obstacles to health services by holding providers accountable for the quality of HIV-related services. He emphasized that the IDLO DREAMS innovation project, “presents an opportunity to build upon positive progress and existing initiatives in the country.”
In roundtable discussions with the Legal and Human Rights Commission (LHRC) in Tanzania, participants agreed upon the need to be aware of current sensitivities and challenges in working with adolescents and young people. It was noted that in many cases regulations are in place, but left unobserved by some communities. There was confidence among LHRC staff that the project’s innovative blend of legal empowerment and social accountability strategies at national, regional and local levels would present an opportunity to contextualize solutions.
In spite of growing HIV-related responses, adolescent girls and young women most often do not have the capacity, voice and power to hold service providers accountable for improved delivery of quality services. While much progress has been made in making information available, the project will target the drivers of accountability and gender inequality, upon which challenges continue to thrive.
“When women and girls are empowered, they can claim their entitlements and defend their right to be HIV-free.” affirms IDLO’s Senior Gender Adviser, Rea Abada Chiongson.