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Women against HIV

Sep 15, 2008

The latest brief from International Women’s Health Coalition, Empower Women and Girls to Stay HIV-Negative says that gender inequalities heighten women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. It calls for placing the power of prevention in women’s hands by giving them access to reproductive health services and protecting their human rights.

Empower Women and Girls to Stay HIV-Negative

Publisher: International Women’s Health Coalition, 2008

Globally half of the people living with HIV and AIDS are female. Gender inequalities and human rights violations heighten girls’ and women’s vulnerability.

This short issue brief is a part of International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) series on Health and Rights. It says that investing in comprehensive HIV prevention for women and girls is also an investment in the health and well-being of boys and men and of communities.

The paper highlights the following key issue related to safe sex:

• Respect for the mutual consent of partners and their right to say no;

•  Zero coercion and violence;

•  Access to female and male condoms and information on using them; and

•  Knowledge of one’s own and one’s partner’s sexual health, including HIV status.

Comprehensive sexuality education in schools provides young people with HIV prevention information and skills and supports them to build equality in relationships and in society and accept diversity of sexual orientation and HIV status.

Knowing one’s own and one’s partner(s)’ HIV status is an essential step towards preventing HIV infections. All individuals and, when desired, couples should have access to confidential HIV counseling and testing as well as treatment.

Individuals should be supported in disclosing their HIV status and all segments of society and institutions should eliminate stigma and discrimination based on HIV status.

It is equally important to put the power of prevention in women’s hands. Only one female condom is distributed for every 700 male condoms. Additional programmatic and budgetary investments are needed to distribute female condoms much more widely and to teach women how to use both male and female condoms.

Women and young people can be most effectively reached through comprehensive reproductive health services (contraception, abortion, pregnancy and delivery care, and screening and treatment of sexually transmitted infections).

In addition, services should build capacity to:

• Teach women and couples how to minimise the risk of HIV infection when trying to get pregnant;

•  Screen for violence against women and provide care, including post-exposure prophylaxis; and

•  Provide reproductive health services to women living with HIV.

The paper emphasises that HIV prevention requires protection of women’s human rights through:

• Ending violence against women and girls.

• Ending stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.

•  Promoting women’s equality. Women should have rights to own and inherit property; equal opportunity in employment, education, and politics; and full equality under the law. 

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