|© UNICEF/ HQ04-1214/Vitale|
|Women attend an information session on Prevention of Parent-to-Child Transmission (PPTCT) in Bangalore, India.|
Women often experience the impact of HIV more severely than men. Women comprise about half of all people living with HIV worldwide. According to the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, in sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic is most severe, they make up an estimated 57 per cent of adults living with HIV, and three quarters of young people living with HIV on the continent are young women aged 15-24.
Women and girls are at an increased risk for HIV infection biologically. In unprotected heterosexual intercourse women are twice as likely as men to acquire HIV from an infected partner.
Economic and social dependence on men often limits women's power to refuse sex or to negotiate the use of condoms.Girls are at even greater risk of exposure to HIV. Their age leaves them less able to reject sexual advances than adults. Girls are more likely to be taken out of school than boys, either to care for the family or because there is not enough money to support all the children’s education.
Before the pandemic, girls were already less likely than boys to get an education. Today, children, and in particular girls, are being pulled out of school to care for their AIDS-affected families.
Once out of school, a young girl’s vulnerability is compounded. She is cut off from the life saving information and skills, and may not have the opportunity to fend for herself, economically or socially. At the same time, schools are a good defence against HIV infection because a good basic education ranks among the most effective means of HIV prevention. In 2005, the World Summit resolved to urgently implement a number of initiatives, including the elimination of user fees for primary education, and where appropriate, health-care services.
Reducing the impact of HIV requires that the needs and issues of women be addressed globally, nationally, and on the community level. Reversing the underlying socioeconomic factors contributing to women’s HIV risk– gender inequality, poverty, lack of economic and educational opportunity, lack of legal and human rights protections – is critical for success.
But these inequities will never be adequately addressed unless men and boys are fully involved and take responsibility for their actions. Men and boys must not tolerate violence against women and girls, they must not engage in sexual behaviour that puts women and girls at risk. And men must be committed to educating their daughters.