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How Women Are Leading the Charge Against Health Emergencies

March 9, 2022
Women & Girls

Worldwide, women have been hit harder than men by the indirect social and economic effects of the COVID pandemic, threatening decades of progress toward gender equality. 

But despite all that’s working against them, women continue to be leaders on the front lines fighting health emergencies like  COVID-19 and AIDS. In fact, 70% of health workers are women, making them the most likely first responders to health crises. Women community leaders also play a critical role in creating supportive spaces for young women and girls to learn about their health, build confidence, and set ambitious goals.

Community leaders like Carolyne, a peer educator in Kenya, help to empower young women and girls to be in control of their health and well-being. Carolyne is one of 400 peer educators working for a Global Fund-supported program that focuses on HIV prevention, care, and treatment for adolescent girls and young women. After receiving a positive HIV diagnosis at 17, Carolyne lived in denial for years—until she became pregnant. At that time, she explains, “I wasn’t taking the medicine. I decided, okay, let me just do it for this baby. That was my turnaround point, and I started adhering to my medication.”

Today, as a peer educator, Carolyne shares her story with young women in her community to help them overcome stigma and remain healthy. By 2024, Carolyne and hundreds of other peer educators in five counties in Kenya are expected to have reached more than 20,000 adolescent girls and young women.

Addressing gender inequalities is key to preventing HIV infections and deaths. The Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment conference, which is coming up later this year, aims to raise money to close the gap in gender inequality by funding programs like Carolyne’s, and others that focus on women’s health and rights. If the replenishment target of $18 billion is met, the Global Fund anticipates a 72% reduction of HIV incidence among adolescent girls and young women in the most affected countries.

Pandemics thrive where inequalities persist and without a deliberate focus to protect and support the health of women and girls, they will always be disproportionately affected by health emergencies. The good news is that women are also catalysts for action. Supporting (RED) means supporting community leaders like Carolyne and helping to empower women and girls in the fight against pandemics.