In every region of the world, gender remains a key factor in health and well-being.
Women and girls often face higher risks and vulnerability to infection, barriers to health information and services, and a lack of decision-making power and control over resources. In addition, rigid gender norms and roles and relationships around masculinity and femininity contribute to worse health outcomes for men and boys as well as women, girls and gender-diverse communities. Key and vulnerable populations, who are already at greater risk, often face additional discrimination that is compounded by harmful gender norms and gender inequality.
Gender inequality in particular has long been recognized as a powerful driver of the HIV epidemic. Adolescent girls and young women are still disproportionately affected: In sub-Saharan Africa, 6 in 7 adolescents aged 15-19 who are newly infected with HIV are girls. Gender differences and inequalities can also influence tuberculosis (TB) outcomes. While women generally face greater barriers to TB care, men are more than twice as likely than women to have active TB. Harmful gender norms around masculinity may also lead to greater exposure to risk factors for men, like smoking and working in high-risk occupations, as well as a lower likelihood to seek care. Gender roles, relations and dynamics have an impact on the malaria epidemic as well. Women’s limited economic and decision-making power may impede their ability to access insecticide-treated nets, attend antenatal care and receive malaria prevention, or seek treatment for febrile children.
Ending HIV, TB and malaria as epidemics cannot be achieved through biomedical interventions alone. We must confront the injustices that make some people especially vulnerable to diseases and unable to access the health services they need. We cannot end HIV, TB and malaria as epidemics without prioritizing gender equality.