“Girls at the Center: Lessons from Kenya on Investing in A World Free of AIDS” Profiles Successful AIDS Programs, Advocates for Girl-Centered Foreign Aid Policies
(Washington, D.C.; July 11, 2012) – As Washington, D.C. prepares to host the XIX International AIDS Conference this month, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development and human rights organization, today released a report making the case that increased investment in girl-led and girl-centered programs is essential to ending the AIDS epidemic.
An estimated 600 million girls are living in developing countries and many are currently underserved by existing HIV programs, often falling through the cracks due to their age, gender or socioeconomic status. Girls in sub-Saharan African aged 15-24 are eight times more likely to be HIV positive than boys. Yet, only 2 cents of out of every international aid dollar is directed to girls.
“People talk about girl power all the time – but girls all over the world are continually left out and denied their rights, rendering them especially vulnerable to a cycle of poverty, HIV and violence,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “The only way to ensure an AIDS-free generation is to empower girls and help them become strong leaders.”
Using the lessons learned from Kenyan programs supported by AJWS, the report highlights the success of locally-based girl-centric programs in preventing the spread of HIV, while at the same time addressing the legal, cultural and economic factors that make girls vulnerable in the first place. It also lays out specific policy recommendations for U.S. agencies designing and implementing public health and development programs to tackle these issues.
The report’s analysis of several programs operating in Kenya reveals that integrating HIV resources with sexual and reproductive health programs and broader social, educational, economic and legal services is critical to reaching girls. The report also emphasizes the importance of creating non-discriminatory, safe spaces where girls can gain the leadership and socioeconomic skills needed to overcome their unique social and cultural challenges that contribute to HIV infection.
One of the organizations highlighted in the report that employs these tactics is Carolina for Kibera (CFK), which works in one of the largest slum communities in Africa and serves 55,000 residents a year. In addition to a health clinic for HIV education, care and treatment, the organization offers a girl-centered program called the Binti Pamoja Center that allows young girls to provide peer support for each other and organize “Safe Spaces” to discuss HIV.
One of many girls helped by CFK is Rosemary. Now 21-years-old, Rosemary came to CFK in 2002 through a sports program. At the time she believed that she could get HIV just from touching someone. After completing CFK’s program that taught her about the disease, as well as about broader sexual health and rights, she gained new confidence and livelihood skills. She is now a community leader who mentors other girls. She states, “Now I am a leader and I can teach others and that feels good.”
In addition to calling for robust HIV programming for girls, the AJWS report urges the U.S. Department of State to protect human rights defenders and organizations supporting girls in this arena. It also calls on U.S. policymakers to partner with grassroots organizations that advocate for laws that protect girls and promote equality.
The full report is available at http://ajws.org/who_we_are/publications/policy_briefs/girls_at_the_center.pdf
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David L. Marcus