In his second decade of leading international work at a successful Fortune 500 company, Gary Cohen, Executive Vice President of the global medical technology company BD, found himself coming up on a “consistent, concerning problem.”
Through his company’s support of health systems strengthening and expanding HIV/AIDS diagnostic capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-2000s, Cohen discovered that girls and young women were being disproportionately infected with HIV compared to boys and young men. The more he dug into the unique vulnerabilities and circumstances impacting girls, the more he learned of the other unjust “social underpinnings” of the disease spread that he could not ignore.
Adolescent girls and young women subjected to sexual violence were being affected in many devastating ways; such as contracting infectious diseases, having unwanted pregnancies, dying in childbirth, experiencing chronic depression and dropping out of school. Cohen was alarmed to learn that “over half of all sexual assaults were committed against girls fifteen and younger.” Through these findings, he realized “…that five perhaps even six of the eight Millennium Development Goals were impaired by this problem… [and] he felt something needed to be done.”