Sexual and reproductive health

Women at the centre: WHO issues new guidance on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women living with HIV

Gender equality and human rights are key to ensuring well-being and dignity for women living with HIV

A female health worker counsels a woman, Bangladesh.
A health worker counsels a woman, Bangladesh.
WHO/SEARO/Gary Hampton

21 February 2017 A woman-centred approach to healthcare is one that consciously adopts the perspectives of women, their families and communities. This means that health services see women as active participants in, as well as beneficiaries of, trusted health systems that respond to women’s needs, rights and preferences in humane and holistic ways.

Such an approach to healthcare is crucial when working to safeguard the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women living with HIV. In 2015, there were an estimated 17.8 million women aged 15 and older living with HIV in 2015, constituting 51 percent of all adults living with HIV.

HIV is not only driven by gender inequality, but also further entrenches inequalities, leaving girls and women more vulnerable to its impact. Girls and women often do not have equal access to health services and information and can also face additional negative health impacts as a result of living with HIV – including stigma, shame, violence and abuse.

Unique new guideline

WHO has today launched the Consolidated guideline on sexual and reproductive health and rights of women living with HIV, which takes a woman-centred approach throughout to effectively address and represent the needs of girls and women, as well as those of their families and communities.

Manjulaa Narasimhan, Scientist at WHO comments ,“Supporting evidence based recommendations and building an enabling environment will help advance the health and well-being of women living with HIV in all their diversity.”

Taking this approach, the process adopted for the development of the guidelines was unique in its meaningful engagement of communities of women living with HIV.

Guiding principles

In taking a woman-centred approach, the new WHO guideline are founded upon the guiding principles of human rights and gender equality:

“When human rights are safeguarded, and gender inequalities are addressed, interventions to improve the sexual and reproductive health of women living with HIV can then, and only then, effectively meet their needs.”

Ian Askew, Director of WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research

  • Human rights: An integrated approach to health and human rights lies at the heart of ensuring the dignity and well-being of women living with HIV. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to the highest attainable standard of health; the right to life and physical integrity, including freedom from violence; the right to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex; and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The right to SRH is an integral part of the right to health, enshrined in article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Gender equality: The promotion of gender equality is central to the achievement of SRHR of all women, including women living with HIV in all their diversity. This means recognizing and taking into account how unequal power in women’s intimate relationships, harmful gender norms and women’s lack of access to and control over resources affect their access to and experiences with health services.