2nd December 2004.
Introduce sexual and reproductive health in schools

By Dr Thoraya Ahmed Obaid
UNFPA executive Director

In every region of the world, AIDS is taking a terrible toll on women and girls, who are experiencing rising rates of HIV infection and a disproportionate burden of caring for those who are sick and orphaned.

Despite this alarming trend, women and girls know less than men about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and the little they know is often rendered useless by the discrimination and violence they face.

To reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, we must confront widespread poverty and gender discrimination and violence. We must expose child marriage for the dangerous practice it is. And we must expand sexual and reproductive health information and services, and respect for reproductive rights.

Today, the vast majority of HIV infections worldwide are sexually transmitted or associated with pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. We must integrate HIV/AIDS services and reproductive health care in ways that work for women and girls, and increase their access to these vital services.
All nations should introduce school curricula that include sexual and reproductive health and life skills education. Young people are more likely to avoid or delay sexual activity and protect themselves when they have the information and skills to make informed and responsible decisions.

Condoms are the most effective prevention tools at our disposal and we must ensure that they are available and used consistently and correctly. At the same time, we must increase access to female-controlled methods of prevention.

Making sure that women have life-saving tools, such as female condoms and microbicides, could change the course of the epidemic.

We must also work within cultures to challenge the social norms that contribute to the lower status of women and girls, and condone violence against them. Stopping violence against women and girls, and promoting their human rights, must be a priority.

As a co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, UNFPA is committed to reducing the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls. This commitment is directly linked to our work in some 140 countries to advance sexual and reproductive health, women’s empowerment and gender equality.

World leaders agreed on these global priorities in 1994 in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development. Today, 10 years later, I call on world leaders to keep the promises made in Cairo and ensure universal access to reproductive health and rights by the year 2015.