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   ATHENA Applauds Bold Feminist Leadership in the HIV Response, Welcomes Winnie Byanyima

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August 2019
Winnie Byanyima
Executive Director
United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS
UNAIDS Headquarters
Geneva, Switzerland

Dear Winnie,

We are writing this letter to you in the spirit of sisterhood, affirmation, partnership and solidarity. As a network of more than 160 feminist partner organizations, practitioners, policymakers, individual feminist activists, experts and civil society members, we warmly welcome the historic decision to appoint you as the new Executive Director of UNAIDS, the first woman to lead the agency, with excitement and anticipation.

The global HIV response is at a critical moment, where investment wanes and institutional struggles threaten to turn attention away from the real and urgent needs of adolescent girls and young women. We need a reframing of the conversation, centered on human rights and justice, that recognizes the strides yet to be made and the progress ahead. 

Globally, HIV disproportionately impacts adolescent girls and young women, with an unacceptably high rate of nearly 1,000 acquiring HIV every day. We believe it’s past time to do things differently, and are thrilled to join hands with UNAIDS’ in recognition of the importance of putting women and girls in all of their diversity at the center of the response, protecting their rights and ensuring their safety and dignity, so that no one is left behind.

Your demonstrated global leadership on issues that are vital to the success of the HIV response speaks for itself – strong African leadership; deep expertise in and resounding commitment to human rights and gender equality; broad capacity and competence across the Sustainable Development Goals; demonstrated partnership with civil society and community; visible activism for justice; willingness to lead coupled with decades of experience as a respected parliamentarian, UN family member, and leader in women’s rights.  

We look to your vision as a champion for women and girls and publicly self-identified feminist leadership, to re-energize the global response and drive real accountability to end the epidemic by 2030. With your background and grounding in human rights and activism, we look to you to bring energy and enthusiasm to this critical work. We believe this is an incredible opportunity to carry forward the day-to-day realities that adolescent girls and young women face in the Global South, and to reflect on and focus attention to the needs and wants of adolescent girls and young women in the global HIV response, as that will be the key to curbing the epidemic, and supporting and strengthening UNAIDS’ work to this ensure their needs are met.

We ask you to work with and for communities most impacted by HIV, especially those that are the most marginalized, and in true partnership with people living with HIV; key population-led networks, including but not limited to gay men and other men who have sex with men, migrants, people who use drugs, prisoners, sex workers, and transgender people; and others most impacted by HIV. Now more than ever, we need a leader who will be unrelenting in their pursuit to decriminalize HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure, drug use, same-sex sexual behavior, consensual adolescent sexuality (in line with their evolving capacity, as articulated by the CRC) and sex work. We know you can be that leader.

We need bold, feminist leadership and action now to pursue justice and accountability. We look forward to and promise to support you and work alongside you to open doors to transformation and change, and to end the AIDS epidemic for good.

You can always count on us, call on us, and lean on us.  

 

Yours in partnership,

ATHENA Network