Women in nations hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic are often too afraid to refuse unprotected sex, according to experts at a United Nations AIDS conference taking place in New York this week. Women comprise nearly half of the world’s 36 million people who are infected with HIV and now make up 60 percent of new infections.
U.N. Population Fund Executive Director Thoraya Obaid claims education is a vital step in helping women protect themselves and fight the epidemic. Girls in sub-Saharan Africa, who are often denied schooling, “must be educated,” said Obaid. Teenage girls in the region are currently five times more likely to be infected than boys.
Obaid also claims giving women greater access to reproductive health care could cut the rate of infection. Providing pregnant women with drugs could help prevent the transmission of HIV to their children. Delegates said the international community should also focus on supporting and enforcing laws that protect women from sexual assault.
A draft declaration expected to be endorsed at the end of the conference includes a section in which delegates pledge to do more to educate both men and women about how to reduce the risk of infection.