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Rahel Gettu works as a community mobilization and networking advisor for UNAIDS Ethiopia where she promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment as essential for an effective response to HIV. She regularly travels to rural areas, which has given her insights into the realities on the ground.

Women in Ethiopia continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV due to economic constraints and gender-related discrimination. Domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, and abduction are still shockingly prevalent. Gender inequalities and harmful gender norms which promote unsafe sex ultimately reduce access to HIV treatment and sexual and reproductive health services for women. In addition to their greater physiological susceptibility to HIV acquisition, the pervasive social, legal, and economic disadvantages women face reduces their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection, and diminishes their access to essential HIV and reproductive health services.

In cooperation with its partners, UNAIDS works for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, the empowerment of women, gender equality, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security. By placing women’s rights at the centre of all its efforts, UNAIDS leads and coordinates United Nations system efforts to ensure that commitments on gender equality and gender mainstreaming translate into meaningful action against HIV/AIDS.

As the Community Mobilization and Networking Adviser in UNAIDS Ethiopia, I promote gender equality and women’s empowerment by working with different actors like religious leaders and communities to raise awareness on GBV and HIV. We recently developed a sermon guide for religious leaders to speak up against any form of violence and stigma. I also lobby for effective community mobilization and reinforcement of community capacities to aid policy development. Ultimately, we strive for human rights and support transparency of fund flows.

Ending GBV by 2030 requires a holistic approach to understanding and challenging gender inequality, promoting women’s rights and creating social, political and economic environments which support empowerment. This includes working with men. It is critical to the prevention of and response to GBV. As long as gender-based violence is recognized as an isolated issue, it will be nearly impossible to alleviate the burden of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.