Southern African Women, Girls More Likely To Be HIV-Positive Than Men in Region, U.N. Report Says
Women and girls in Southern Africa are more likely than men in the region to contract HIV because of their lower social and economic status, according to a report made public in Lusaka, Zambia, on Wednesday by a U.N. task force on women, girls and HIV/AIDS in the region, Xinhua News Agency reports. More than 20% of pregnant women in the region are HIV-positive, and women and girls ages 15 to 24 are 2.5 times as likely to be infected as their male counterparts, according to the report. The task force -- composed of 27 ministers, judges, scholars and other prominent people from nine Southern African countries -- was established in 2003 following a visit to the region by Stephen Lewis, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, Xinhua News Agency reports. "In many Southern African countries, ingrained social and cultural norms relegate women to a lower social and economic status," the report says, adding, "Often treated as legal minor[s], barred from owning or inheriting property, unable to make independent financial decisions, women are vulnerable to poverty, exploitation, violence and ultimately to HIV infection." The report calls for improvements in education for women and girls and stiffer punishment for sexual abuse and harrassment. The report also urges Southern African governments to increase public awareness of the sometimes abusive and illegal sexual relationships between older men and teenage girls, which usually involve the exchange of sex for money, goods or other basic services. In addition, the report calls for improved access to judicial and health care systems for women who have experienced gender-based violence, as well as equal rights to owning property (Xinhua News Agency, 9/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.