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Commentary & Opinion
International Community Should Address Conditions That Make Women Vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, Opinion Piece Says

March 12, 2007

Although "women face inequality with men" in "all too many places," they are "fast approaching equality" in terms of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot writes in a Bangkok Post opinion piece. According to Piot, 59% of adults and 75% of young people living with HIV in highly affected African countries are women, and 30% of HIV-positive people in Asia are women. One reason women are "catching up with men in terms of" HIV cases is the "difference in physical make-up between men and women, which makes women almost twice as likely to become infected with HIV from men as men are from women," Piot writes. He adds that "apart from the biological inequality, there are many deeply rooted social patterns" that "explain why women are increasingly" affected by HIV. Several "social norms and patterns across the world can influence the adoption of behavior that increases the risk of HIV infection," Piot writes, adding, "In many areas of the world, suspicion of immorality and infidelity threaten women's fragile status and scared them away from carrying or insisting on using a condom. For the same reasons, women will also avoid routine reproductive health services where they could be informed about HIV, be tested and, if needed, receive treatment." In addition, some social norms "encourage men to engage in risky behavior" that puts them and their female partners at an increased risk of HIV, Piot adds. In order to stop the "feminization" of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as well as the pandemic itself, the international community should "initiate legal but also social, cultural and economic changes to challenge some of the most pervasive social patterns and gender norms that continue to fuel" the spread of HIV, Piot writes. "We must start judging our responses to HIV by two questions: do they promote the human rights of women and girls, and do they promote the responsibilities of men and boys," Piot writes, adding, "Above all, men and women have to agree to change together the society they live in for one respectful of the individual and of human rights." He concludes, "This paradigm shift is necessary to beat HIV," and it "has become a compulsory requirement to get ahead of this epidemic" (Piot, Bangkok Post, 3/9).

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