The devastating toll HIV/AIDS takes on women, and their critical role in fighting the virus, is the focus of this year’s International Women's Day on 8 March 2004.
Women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the epidemic. At least half of those newly infected are women, and among people younger than 24, girls and young women now make up nearly two thirds of those living with HIV.
In a message to mark International Women’s Day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said AIDS struck at the lifeline of society that women represent.
"Poor women are becoming even less economically secure as a result of AIDS, often deprived of rights to housing, property or inheritance and even adequate health services... What is needed is positive, concrete change that will give more power and confidence to women and girls, and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society," Mr Annan said.
Poverty disproportionately increases women's chances of contracting the virus. A staggering seventy percent of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty are female. At the IAEA, efforts continue to reduce poverty and improve the health of women in developing countries.
IAEA Helps Women the World Over
Agency activities focus to take the edge off hardship, by using nuclear science to:
- Increase food production;
- Improve women’s health through better nutrition;
- Expand cancer treatment through radiotherapy;
- Prevent osteoporosis;
- Contribute to safe motherhood; and
- Provide clean, and sustainable supplies of water. Read stories on how the IAEA is improving lives.
International Women's Day is also an opportunity to take stock of where things stand "in house" at the Agency, as it strives toward the UN goal of achieving diversity and equality in the workplace.
IAEA's Record on Women
Where does the IAEA sit in the UN system?
The overall proportion of women staff in the professional and higher categories in the United Nations system was 34%, according to the latest report from October 2002. Among organizations with the highest representation of women (more than 30%) were the United Nations Population Fund and UNAIDS. While six UN organizations had no female Professional staff. The Agency sits in the group with the representation falling between 10% and 20%.
Women outnumber men at the IAEA when it comes to support positions, known as General Service (GS) Staff in UN parlance. However when it comes to professional jobs at the Agency, men outnumber women, holding 82% of all professional and higher posts. The percentage is even higher, 87%, in scientific and engineering positions. All told, about 66 women and 430 men hold posts as chemists, life scientists, nuclear engineers, physicists, safeguards inspectors, or technical specialists.
The greatest challenge facing the IAEA in striking a better gender balance, is the lack of female scientists in the nuclear field. Statistics from the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have shown that the overall number of graduate students in nuclear related areas of study remains low because of the perception of poor job prospects as nuclear plants are privatized and government support for nuclear programmes is reduced. Under those circumstances the resource pool of women in the nuclear field, which was never adequate, is diminishing further.
The IAEA is committed to increasing the numbers of women staff in the scientific and engineering fields and has implemented measures to work towards this. But the Agency still has a way to go in its drive for equality on the job.