UNAIDS, Actress Emma Thompson, Other Prominent Women Launch Global Coalition on Women and AIDS
British actress Emma Thompson, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and former Irish President Mary Robinson on Monday launched the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS to raise awareness and increase HIV/AIDS education among women in developing countries, the PA News/Scotsman reports (Moss, PA News/Scotsman, 2/2). The coalition will bring together advocates, government representatives, celebrities and community workers to eradicate violence against women, expand their access to education, strengthen their inheritance and property rights and ensure fair access to HIV prevention and care services (Piot/Thompson, BBC News, 2/2). Women represent about half of all HIV-positive people worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, women represent 58% of HIV-positive people, and young women ages 15 to 24 are 2.5 times more likely to be infected than young men. Women's increased vulnerability to HIV is primarily due to "inadequate knowledge, ... insufficient access to HIV prevention services, inability to negotiate safer sex, and a lack of female-controlled HIV prevention methods, such as microbicides," according to a coalition press release (Global Coalition on Women and AIDS release, 2/2). In addition, women are more vulnerable to HIV because the virus is more easily transmitted from men to women and because women generally have sex earlier and with older partners, according to Reuters (Reaney, Reuters, 2/2).
"We have to put this power into the hands of women. It is not that I want to exclude men in tackling this ... but we do have to place emphasis on women having jurisdiction over their own bodies," Thompson said. "All too often, HIV prevention is failing women and girls. Because of their lack of social and economic power, many women and girls are unable to negotiate relationships based on abstinence, faithfulness and use of condoms," Piot said (PA News/Scotsman, 2/2). He added that women "are infected by their only sexual partner, their husband or their regular boyfriend. Marriage doesn't protect against HIV" (Boseley, Guardian, 2/3). Piot said, "It is precisely to address these inequalities and reduce women's vulnerability to HIV that the coalition has been created." Robinson said, "This is the black plague of this century and it is particularly affecting women. This coalition must make a difference" (PA News/Scotsman, 2/2). The coalition will be operated by a steering committee of 28 people involved with AIDS initiatives, including Musimbi Kanyoro, secretary-general of the World Young Women Christian Association in Kenya; Justice Edwin Cameron from South Africa; Asma Jahangir, a lawyer and special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Pakistan; Marta Suplicy, mayor of Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Iman Bibars, chair of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women in Cairo (Suri, Inter Press Service, 2/2).