Background: The Declaration of Commitment of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS), in 2001, sets out several policy and programmatic commitments that pertain to women and the gender aspects of the HIV epidemic. Some of them are general, whereas others are more specific and include time-bounded targets. This article summarizes data on policies and strategies affecting women and men equity in access to antiretroviral treatment and other HIV services, as reported by countries but do not address other issues of gender, such as men having sex with men.
Methods: The analysis includes data from the National Composite Policy Index as reported by 130 countries in response to 14 questions relating to progress in creating an enabling policy environment for women. Additional data on gender equity in knowledge of HIV and access to HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment is obtained with other core UNGASS indicators. The review aggregates countries according to regions.
Results: A total of 147 countries provided national reports in which 78% of relevant UNGASS indicators were either completely or partially disaggregated by sex. However, 16% of countries did not report any HIV indicators by sex (with a range of 0%-29% across regions). A total of 82% (108 of 130) of countries report having policies in place to ensure that women have equal access to HIV-related services, but 14% of reporting countries also had laws and policies in place that hinder their ability to deliver effective HIV programs for women. About 80% of countries report having included women as a specific “sector” in their multisectoral AIDS strategies or action frameworks. However, only slightly more than half (53%) of those countries report having a budget attached to programs addressing women issues. As of the end of 2007, antiretroviral therapy reached 33% of people in need, and women represent a slight majority of those on treatment. The gender gap on HIV knowledge has narrowed, but overall levels of knowledge on how to prevent HIV remains at low levels, with only about 40% of young men (aged 15-24 years) and 36% of young women with correct comprehensive knowledge about HIV prevention.
Conclusions: Since 2001, a large majority of countries have integrated women-related issues into their national HIV policies and strategic plans. However, countries and regions with low-level or concentrated HIV epidemics lag behind countries with generalized epidemics in integrating women-focused policies into national frameworks. The lack of budget support for women-focused programs in half of the countries indicates that those policies have not been sufficiently translated into multisectoral activities. The engagement of development ministries in women's social and economic empowerment is largely still lacking, which raises the concern that strategies to reduce gender inequality may also be lacking in broader development plans. The apparent attainment of gender equity in HIV testing and the delivery of antiretroviral treatment is an important achievement. There has also been a significant increase in countries' abilities to collect and report data disaggregated by sex and age. The monitoring of women's progress in HIV responses via the UNGASS reporting system provides important insights but should be complemented with data that strengthen understandings of the actual implementation of strategies, as well.