Saturday, November 14, 2009

HIV/AIDS #1 Killer of Women Worldwide

Crossposted at Amplify.

According to the Boston News, the World Health Organization (WHO) released some startling news on women and HIV/AIDS as World AIDS Day approaches on December 1, 2009:
GENEVA - In its first study of women’s health, the World Health Organization said yesterday that the AIDS virus is the leading cause of death and disease among women between the ages of 15 and 44.

I find this news to be both unsettling and surprising because although I had recognized the feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, I had never expected it to become the number one cause of death, globally. For us advocates out there I take this as yet another sign that we really need to step up our game in terms of addressing this problem in cohesive, well-planned interventions that are gender mainstreamed. If we approach the HIV from this perspective we could hopefully also understand some of the underlying gender inequities that are fueling this epidemic in women.

The article lists the main reasons for these infections are unprotected sex which many women globally can not negotiate using protection or even consent to the act in the first place. When women are so devalued in society where they do not have control over decisions regarding their own bodies it is no surprise that HIV/AIDS rates are on the rise. (And yes that includes US in the United States- are we not in the process of drafting healthcare reform that bans a woman's access to abortion services???) .

Perhaps my favorite part about this announcement by the WHO is how they managed to draw a clear connection between this pandemic and gender inequality that leads to lack of access for women to contraception, sexual health education and general finanacial independence and empowerment:

“Women who do not know how to protect themselves from such infections or who are unable to do so face increased risks of death or illness,’’ WHO said in a 91-page report. “So do those who cannot protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy or control their fertility because of lack of access to contraception.’’

The data were included in a report on the unequal health treatment faced by girls and women.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO chief, said women enjoy a biological advantage because they tend to live six to eight years longer than men. But in many parts of the world, they suffer serious disadvantages because of poverty, poorer access to health care, and cultural norms that put a priority on the well-being of men, she said.

I think this was a well-thought out release by the World Health Organization but at the same time I am also hoping that this disturbing news will push along the development of microbicides that are a more woman-controlled HIV protection method.

The bottom line here in my opinion is that although it is quite unfortunate that the world has set back and allowed HIV to have such a firm grasp on so many women around the world we would hope that it has also taught us the importance and downstream effects of gender inequality. Some brush off gender inequality and feminism as things of the past but I think think they are definitely still with us and serve a crucial function. Gender inequity is not just what is keeping women from meeting their potential but it also effects those who rely on these women for their services, labor and time such as husbands, children and governments.

I beileve that Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn were right in their book, Half the Sky, if we can not prioritize women we are not going to get to the level of development and health improvements that we are seeking. Women are half of societies and they needed to be treated as equals if real progress in society is to be made.



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