The face of HIV and AIDS is a woman’s face. In fact, it’s an African woman’s face.

Of the more than 23 million people infected with HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, 60% are women. And in the age range fifteen to twenty-four, 75% are women and girls.

But the fact that African women are disproportionately affected by HIV is just one part of the story. For the face of hope, the face at the heart of the response is also an African woman’s face. At community level, grassroots groups, overwhelmingly powered by women, provide communities with home-based care, grief counselling, income generation, voluntary HIV testing, human rights training and more. In short, they resurrect lives and restore hope.

African grandmothers, who have lost their adult children to AIDS, have stepped in as the guardians of the future, and raise the vast majority of the 17 million orphaned children. They pay their school fees, get them on treatment and help them heal from their grief. The grandmothers are courageous advocates for change and government accountability and their collective voice is growing stronger — pressing for their human rights and a hope-filled future.

And just at the moment when all of this hard-won knowledge and sacrifice are beginning to pay off, the international community is heralding the end of the AIDS crisis. In the wake of the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, the global discourse has turned to provision of drugs as a sweeping panacea — dangerously neglecting funding to the service delivery and resilience — building programmes forged by these women living at the heart of the pandemic. Furthermore, the voices of African women remain conspicuously absent from the global policy-making fora.

That is not to say that these women are silent. Far from it. Ask them and they will tell you: the drugs don’t deliver themselves; or that the “end of AIDS” requires far more than counting the number of people on treatment.  You can’t put a number on repairing traumatized psyches. You can’t count what it takes to ensure an orphaned girl stays in school and breaks the cycle of HIV infection. This critical work is well underway and without it, there will never be an “end to AIDS”.

If we as a global community hope to see an end to this catastrophic pandemic, we must immediately expand the global discourse to include the experts at the frontlines. How do we ensure that families and communities are rebuilt, that lives are reclaimed, and hope is resurrected?

Just Ask Her.

Visit stephenlewisfoundation.org for information about presents the ASK HER Talks: African Women Reveal the Truth about AIDS.