PRESIDENT Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has called for a change in mind-set to reduce vulnerability of girls and women.
"This is an issue that I hold very close to my heart because it has been around for far too long.
"We need a change of heart and a change of mind-set when we talk about women and girls," he said at the 10th biennial International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
In an environment where male domination in political leadership has been the norm throughout our history, women continue to face greater challenges, he pointed out at the gathering in Busan, South Korea last week.
"There is a greater need to secure legislative and policy changes to protect the rights of women.
"Laws and policies that affirm and protect the rights of women are vital to the success of the AIDS response.
"Governments have repeatedly declared their commitment to improve the status of women and have acknowledged the linkage with HIV," he said.
However, progress has been made in only a few areas, Ratu Epeli said.
"By and large, though, efforts have been small-scale, half-hearted and haphazard.
"For the response to the epidemic to be successful, national HIV responses need to be reoriented to support women's equality inside and outside the home, to protect women and girls from violence, and to change gender norms that set men against women, and that put men and women at risk," he said.