HIV/AIDS kills more young women than anything else

HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age (15-49 years) worldwide. That’s the stark message coming from UNAIDS as it launches the Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV.

Violence against women and girls is the key driver of the epidemic. The risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence, or fear they might experience it,  may be up to three times higher than among those who have not.  These women are less likely to have safe sex, go for HIV testing, share their HIV status and get treatment.

Their inferior social status puts women and girls at risk too.

The infection rate among young women (15-24 years) is three times higher than that of young men in some countries where men are encouraged to have more than one sexual partner and it is common for older men to have sexual relations with much younger women.

When they do get infected, women are likely to face barriers in accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services because benefiting from services often requires time, money and the possibility to travel that men are not prepared to grant.

Women and girls can find themselves in a double bind. They have to stay at home to look after the family, including HIV/AIDS victims, thereby limiting their chances of earning money and increasing their autonomy.

The death of a partner, whatever the cause, means that many women lose everything and have to adopt what UNAIDS euphemistically calls “survival strategies that increase their chances of contracting and spreading HIV”.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, is more direct: “Driven by poverty and the desire for a better life, many women and girls find themselves using sex as a commodity in exchange for goods, services, money, accommodation, or other basic necessities.”

Lack of education is also responsible.

The cheapest way to inform people about HIV prevention is through written material such as posters and leaflets. Illiterate women can’t take advantage of this information, which is one reason why they are four times more likely to believe there is no way to prevent HIV infection.


Useful links

WHO site on gender inequality and HIV

Women and health : today’s evidence tomorrow’s agenda a new WHO report reviewing evidence on the health issues that particularly affect girls and women throughout their life

The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS

The Finnish government analysed HIV/AIDS related strategies and key interventions of 25 development partners funding the HIV/AIDS related activities

OECD statistics on aid to HIV/AIDS control in official development assistance programmes

Wikigender was initiated by the OECD Development Centre to improve knowledge on gender equality-related issues around the world and facilitate information exchange