Young South African women are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than men of a similar age. One of the main barriers to significantly reducing new HIV infections and Aids deaths in sub-Saharan Africa is the negative attitude towards gender equality held by many men.
While the United Nations announced last week that the number of new infections and deaths from the virus were falling globally for the first time was a welcome breakthrough, experts say the virus continues to affect women disproportionately due to their low status in the developing world.
According to the UN’s programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids), the virus has become the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age worldwide. The combination of the female anatomy, which is more susceptible to contracting the virus than the male’s, and a broad base of gender inequalities, means young South African women are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than men of a similar age. On a global scale, the UN has estimated that of the 5.5 million young people aged 15-24 living with HIV in developing countries in 2007, about 62 per cent were female.
In South Africa, considered at the heart of the HIV epidemic, it appears that some men’s negative attitude to gender equality regularly manifest themselves in the form of violence against women. A medical study on violence against women released by South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC) revealed some startling findings about violence against women in a country where the culture of patriarchy is dominant. Conducted in Gauteng, South Africa’s most densely populated and cosmopolitan province, The War At Home survey showed that more than one in three men questioned admitted to rape, while three in four men said they had perpetrated violence against women.
One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of HIV is through the use of condoms, but the UN believes up to 70 per cent of women worldwide have been forced to have unprotected sex.