Fighting HIV with Education and Prevention

August 15, 2012

“If women could bring life to this world, we could bring life to this fight!”
— Sheryl Lee Ralph, former star of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls

The impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls — a serious yet often ignored issue — was a central focus of the 19th International AIDS Conference that was held in July in Washington, D.C. Speakers like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and actress Whoopi Goldberg demanded an increase in awareness, education, and care for women and girls living with the disease both domestically and abroad. The theme of the conference was an AIDS-free generation, and speakers argued that the health of a nation begins with the health of its mothers.

Sheryl Lee Ralph spoke at the 19th International AIDS conference.

When HIV was first discovered, many believed that it primarily affected men — especially gay men — and people who live outside the United States. However, the impact of HIV and AIDS on women in America and abroad is disturbingly and uniquely severe. On average, a U.S. woman tests positive for HIV every 47 minutes, and the disease disproportionately affects black and Latina women. Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death for women ages 15–49, and young women are twice as likely as men to contract the disease. At the conference, Clinton spoke about how gender inequalities work with the disease to greatly diminish women’s reproductive choices. She revealed that the United States will invest an additional $80 million in health care and reproductive care programs that help women who have tested positive for HIV.

Comprehensive sex education could help prevent the spread of this disease. Additionally, gender-based violence puts women at a higher risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV — victims of abuse and young women are less able and more afraid to demand safe-sex practices. To combat the spread of HIV domestically, we must work to spread awareness and education about the importance of prevention and testing. Comprehensive sex-education programs are vital to inform women and girls about prevention and protection from all sexually transmitted diseases. We must continue to strive for greater research and access to protective contraception like antiretroviral therapy technology, female condoms, and microbicide gels to prevent infection.

AAUW works diligently to protect every woman’s right to safe, accessible family planning and reproductive health services. As an organization that is dedicated to advancing equity through education, we fight for comprehensive education programs that recognize the needs and realities faced by young women. AAUW’s continued fight for these basic rights will help protect women’s physical and emotional well-being by destroying social barriers that put women at great risk for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. As Nobel laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said at the AIDS conference, “Combating harmful social norms, promoting gender equality, and empowering women is essential to boost HIV response in women and girls.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Laura Dietrich.

By:   |   August 15, 2012

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