Ms. Angeline Yiamiton Siparo, Chairperson, National AIDS Control Council

I celebrate all women and girls on this special day- Happy International Women’s Day!

This year’s theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” seeks to celebrate the strides women continue to make as we grapple the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, women remain on the frontlines of the pandemic as healthcare workers, caregivers, mobilizers at national and community level- they continue to make a mark.

It is these same efforts we choose to acknowledge and celebrate in the HIV Response. Over the past three decades we have made huge strides in our HIV programmes, which has translated into longer, healthier lives for women. Indeed, we have seen marked growth in our efforts towards bridging the gap that has consistently predisposed women and girls to higher risks in contracting HIV.

We however recognize that we still have work to do if we are to reduce new infections among young people, especially girls, as well as transmission of HIV from mothers to their newborns.

During this COVID-19 crisis, we have seen an upsurge in teenage pregnancies across counties in Kenya. This is a proxy indicator of new HIV infections. Whether these are from sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation or age-inappropriate exposure to sexual information, we need to take notice. It is critical for us as health policy makers and practitioners to be decisive in ensuring that women and girls are protected while at home. Protecting our young women and girls will go a long way to ensure they remain HIV negative and will also safeguard efforts and investments in eliminating Mother to Child Transmission of HIV.

We take cognizance of the structural barriers we continue to grapple with, as we fight retrogressive practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and early marriages, which further expose our young women to new HIV infections. Gender based violence continues to stare us in our faces, especially in the recent times. We cannot ignore inequality that continues to have negative effects on women and girls’ access to education and leadership opportunities. Leadership opportunities for young women in school and within work spaces are key to women’s decisions on overall health for themselves and of their children.

Women leaders through various institutions at national and county level have however continued to demonstrate their commitment to fighting new infections amongst our women and girls. They have continued to stand for those living with HIV. These women leaders have remained steadfast despite the challenges they have faced with stigma and discrimination, inequality, financial inadequacies and other barriers. They have risen to fight for safer and inclusive spaces for our women and girls especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. I celebrate you all – women opinion leaders, policy makers at both national and county level, health professionals, community representative and all others who continue to contribute towards ending AIDS by 2030. It is through your collective action that we can accelerate progress towards attainment of this goal.

On this International Women’s Day, I urge us to rally together and fight for our women. Let us embrace dignity, equity and inclusiveness in all our programmes, which are critical if we are to transform this nation. Let their voices be heard; let their faces be seen. Let us allow girls and young women to walk boldly towards their dreams and visions. We can make it happen!

Ms. Angeline Yiamiton Siparo, Chairperson, National AIDS Control Council | March 8, 2021

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