Gender inequalities which fuel women's vulnerability to HIV must be addressed by the church, aid agency Tearfund has said as the 17th International AIDS conference in Mexico draws to a close today.
"There is a desperate need for the leadership of the church to smarten up to gender-related issues like violence and issues of power and control," said Tearfund’s Chief Executive Matthew Frost. "Gender inequality is one of the key drivers of the pandemic. The church is in a key position to transform attitudes within the community. It cannot remain silent."
Gender and gender-based violence have been leading themes at the conference in Mexico. Lyn Lusi, from Tearfund's partner HEAL Africa, who works with women affected by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), spoke at several conference sessions.
"Gender inequalities leave women disempowered and more vulnerable to violence including rape. There are new laws about sexual violence in DRC, but any law without the collaboration of the community is useless. Social attitudes which condone violence against women, and stigmatise those who have been raped must be confronted."
"The church is an influential voice in many affected communities and so is best placed to address these deep-rooted attitudes" adds Lyn. "It was the church that stood on the front line against slavery, and against apartheid. Now the church must stand up against gender injustice."
Tearfund's partner organisation, Christian AIDS Taskforce, works in Zimbabwe and is tackling gender issues through local churches.
"We work with churches tackling gender issues and harmful practices which put people at risk of infection. We work with both men and women because to effectively address gender inequality we cannot leave men out", said Minnie Moyo. "Before this, women didn't have a say in sexual matters …now we have seen relationships restored and communication improved between couples."
"The Church must take a lead in its key position to challenge gender stereotypes that increase women's vulnerability to HIV", said Peter Grant, Tearfund’s International Director. "But it cannot work in isolation. In collaboration with one another, the church, other faith and civil society groups, governments and donors can make a stronger difference."