Physicians for Human Rights released a report on Friday demonstrating that discriminatory views against women contribute to the spread of HIV. The organization conducted a study in Botswana and Swaziland, where a greater proportion of the population is infected with HIV than anywhere else in Africa. The study found the largest number of people had engaged in unprotected sex in areas where discriminatory beliefs were most prevalent, a reflection of women’s unequal status.
Researchers found that women in discriminatory communities often do not have a say in whether their partner uses a condom during sexual intercourse. Women are forced to have sex in order to earn money to feed themselves or their children, and since their partners may have sexual relations with multiple women, HIV spreads easily.
The report calls on the leaders of Botswana and Swaziland to enforce women’s legal rights and to combat women’s poverty to effectively limit HIV infection. “Men and women must be educated and supported to acknowledge women’s equal status with men and abandon these prejudices and risky sexual practices,” said Karen Leiter, the study’s lead investigator. “The impact of women’s lack of power cannot be underestimated.”
According to the report, 75 percent of infected 15- to 25-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa are female.