By Teen Voices editorial intern Ally Betker
Each year, we mark World AIDS Day on December 1. It brings together people from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and provides opportunities for public and private partners to encourage progress in prevention, treatment, and care.
A recent World Health Organization study shows that AIDS is the leading killer of women of reproductive age in poor and middle-income countries. As we observe World AIDS Day, it’s important to understand the special circumstances of women and girls coping with the disease.
Women’s exposure to HIV is closely related to gender discrimination and violation of women’s rights. In many societies, women have few rights within their sexual relationships. Men often make the majority of decisions, such as whom they will marry and whether they will have more than one sexual partner. This power imbalance means that it can be more difficult for women to protect themselves from getting infected with HIV. For example, a woman may not be able to ask to use a condom if her husband is the one who makes the decisions.
Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is an issue that directly affects women and at the same time increases the spread of HIV. MTCT occurs when an HIV positive woman passes the virus to her baby during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or breastfeeding. According to UNAIDS, at the end of 2007 there were an estimated 2 million children living with HIV, most of who contracted the disease from their mothers. A large number of these children will not live to adulthood. There are drugs that can reduce the chances of a child acquiring HIV from its mother, but they are unavailable in many parts of the world.
Advancing gender equality will increase women’s empowerment to negotiate safer sex and protect themselves from HIV infection. Equality will help women seek treatment, care, and support. HIV/AIDS and gender inequality are mutual — and if we work to solve these two problems in tandem, we can create lasting change.