Gender and HIV and AIDS

The Issue: Women and HIV and AIDS

The world’s women are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. Women account for 60 percent of HIV infections in 2008 in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hit hardest by the epidemic, according to UNAIDS. In Asia, the number of women living with HIV nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008. And the World Health Organization concluded that AIDS is the leading cause of death and disease among women ages 15 to 44 in 2009.

Because of their biological makeup, women and girls are more susceptible than men to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Men and boys face unique risks, too, primarily because some feel pressured to have multiple sexual partners, which increases their vulnerability to infections. Still, the continued spread of HIV remains largely driven by inequalities between women and the men in their lives.

How does that play out?

In many countries, expectations about women’s roles – in relationships, at home – limit their ability to control their sexual lives and protect themselves from harm. Violence against them also makes many women more vulnerable to HIV; if women fear being abused by their partners, they're less likely to get tested for the virus. That fear can also hinder women who are HIV-positive from seeking counseling or disclosing to their partners that they are infected. Meanwhile, women’s low status in some countries hampers them from earning an education, leading a business or owning property – opportunities that can give women more of a voice at home and in their communities. With such power, studies show they are less likely to become infected with HIV.

While women and girls in developing countries may be among those most vulnerable to HIV, they also are effective agents against the epidemic’s further spread. For instance, many women in poor, rural villages are leading efforts to address how their communities take care of families and children affected by HIV and AIDS. And in all responses to the epidemic – whether at the village or national level – it is imperative that women’s unique vulnerabilities to HIV are integrated into prevention, support and treatment programs.

Our Role

ICRW was among the first organizations in the early 1990s to call attention to how gender inequality fueled the transmission of HIV and AIDS among women. Today, ICRW continues to push the AIDS agenda forward. As the global response moves from a focus on crisis management into a sustained, long-term strategy, our work centers around how HIV programs and policies can better serve the needs of women and girls. We work with partners to design, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of programs that strive to reduce women's social and biological vulnerability to HIV. We also aim to weave these programs into existing family planning, reproductive and maternal health services. Ultimately, we strive to influence national policies by guiding governments and others on how to address the role that gender norms play in the prevention, support and treatment of HIV.

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