November 9, 2005
Women and children are at a higher HIV/AIDS risk because of the widespread failure to protect their legal and property rights, said experts at an International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) conference in Kuala Lumpur. These rights include protections from rape, physical abuse and discrimination, experts told the five-day meeting of some 200 delegates from 25 countries, which began Monday.
"In most parts of Africa, girls and women face particular risks of HIV infection due to their disadvantaged physical, economic and legal positions, and social status," said Victoria Awomolo, a Nigerian lawyer. "Women cannot negotiate for safe sex or say no to unfaithful partners. Monogamous married women are powerless against infection by husbands with outside partners. To worsen the situation, economic dependency prevents women from leaving unsafe sexual relationships," said Awomolo.
The increase in HIV/AIDS prevalence among women, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where many women are unaware of their rights, highlights a need to retool laws to help women and children.
"If you protect women's legal rights, you go a long way towards protecting them from HIV," said Marina Mahathir, president of the Malaysian AIDS Council and daughter of the host county's former premier.
Discriminatory practices such as "widow inheritance" -- where women whose husbands die are "inherited" by their brothers-in-law -- still continue, said Lorna Juliet Amujojo, FIDA's general secretary in Uganda. The rape of women and children who are virgins in the expectation that it will cure HIV/AIDS goes unabated, she said. "This is a myth and it is actually a very destructive cultural practice which the law even in southern Africa has not been able to deal with because of the loopholes in their criminal law."