Rate of HIV/AIDS Infection in Women Triggers Concern


A case has been made for greater resources to be channeled into finding new methods of protecting women from sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, as they are more vulnerable to contracting the disease than their male counterpart.
Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Jamaica, Gillian Lindsay-Nanton made the appeal while addressing an awards ceremony to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. The event was hosted by the Bureau of Women’s Affairs in collaboration with the Jamaica National Building Society.
Stating that male to female transmission of HIV/AIDS is much more likely to occur than female to male, the representative noted that studies had shown that women were twice as likely as men to contract HIV. Statistics show that in the developing world at the end of 2003, more than half of those living with HIV were women, she added.
In Jamaica, there had been a disturbing increase in the number of females infected with the disease, Mrs. Lindsay-Nanton observed, noting that the increase in HIV/AIDS infection in women world wide was due mainly to their unequal status in the society and lower levels of education leading to vulnerability in relationships.
“The data tell us that globally, young women and girls are less likely to be educated than young men and more prone to coercion and violence in sexual relationships,” she said, adding that because of their unequal status, women and girls did not have equal access to prevention, treatment and care programmes.
Locally, Mrs. Lindsay-Nanton noted that although there had been an improvement in the education of young women and girls, there was still a higher level of female to male unemployment in the Jamaica with a ratio of two to one in terms of unemployed females to unemployed males.
Referring to statistics on rape and domestic violence from the last Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, Mrs. Lindsay-Nanton observed that there was also a higher level of violence against women.
The rapid spread of HIV among women was attributed to the high incidence of non-consensual sex and the inability to negotiate safer sex, she said, referring to country surveys that showed that more than one-third of young women reported that they were afraid of refusing sexual advances and more than one-half admitting to having sex only because of a partner’s insistence.
“The information points clearly to the need for special attention to be paid to the role and vulnerabilities of women and for this reason we ought not to design gender neutral programmes,” she stressed.
She also argued that “poverty can lead women towards desperate measures such as enduring abusive relationships or engaging in unsafe sex in exchange for money, housing, food or education”.
The UNDP representative commended the Jamaican government on the recent passage into law of the amended Property (Rights of Spouses) Act, calling it a signal achievement for the country.
Mrs. Lindsay-Nanton urged governments to provide greater training and health care materials for women and girls who undertook unpaid care for family members or others with HIV or AIDS-related illnesses.Most importantly, she added, programmes should be designed to involve men and boys in care giver roles to help change traditional attitudes and cultural beliefs about gender roles.
“Men need to adopt responsible sexual behaviour and become involved in care and support. They need to practise egalitarian and consenting sexual relations and provide caring roles in relation to pregnancy, birth and child-rearing,” she advised.
Zelma Simms, entrepreneur and bammy maker from St. Elizabeth as well as the Trelawny Parish Advisory Committee were honoured at the ceremony for initiatives towards the empowerment of women in their respective parishes.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2004 was “Women Celebrate.Voices of the Unsung”.
The Bureau of Women’s Affairs was established in 1975 with a mandate to advise Government on ways to address the problems confronting women to enable them to recognize their full potential as individuals.

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