Social Customs Partly To Blame for Spread of HIV Among Women, Editorial Says
The "most striking news" in UNAIDS' recently released "AIDS Epidemic Update 2004" is that "AIDS is fast becoming a disease that strikes younger women disproportionately," a New York Times editorial says. Therefore, countries with "entrenched epidemics need to enhance women's rights under the law and end retrograde traditions that make them second-class citizens," the editorial says. Although "[i]gnorance is part of the problem," the laws and customs that "keep women powerless and poor" -- and vulnerable to sexual exploitation -- are "far more insidious," the editorial says. The "soaring" HIV prevalence among younger women documented by the report is "driven partly by social customs that require the women to remain ignorant of sex and sexuality until they marry," the Times says. UNAIDS researchers have determined that a majority of young women in some areas have "no idea how to protect themselves from HIV," the editorial says, adding that the "root problem" in many developing countries is "pervasive gender inequality" that prevents women from gaining economic independence, asserting their legal rights or even "deciding when to have sex," as a "staggering number" of women report their first sexual experience was the result of rape. Some women who are "[m]arginalized in the economy and under the law" are left with commercial sex work as "their only marketable resource," meaning that they have "no standing to refuse sex or ask their partners to use condoms," according to the Times. Marriage and fidelity also "offer little protection" for women because they "typically marry older men who have been sexually active for decades," and in some areas, prevalence rates for monogamous married women are higher than for single women who are not in "permanent relationships," the editorial says. Although education is "crucial" in combating the pandemic, "information alone is not enough," the editorial concludes (New York Times, 12/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.