HIV/AIDS infection rates are increasing at an alarming rate for young women in Asia, the United Nations announced this past Thursday. Of particular significance is the emergence of young monogamous married women as a fast-growing demographic of AIDS sufferers. This group, formerly thought at low risk for the disease, are being infected with HIV by promiscuous husbands, the Associated Press reports.
Lucita Lazo, program director for East and South East Asia for the United Nations Women’s Fund (UNIFEM), cited a report released by the United Nations AIDS agency revealing that by the end of 2001, 7.3 million young women had contracted HIV/AIDS, compared to 4.5 million young men. Maytinee Bhongsvej, executive director of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), which runs the shelter, told the Associated Press that “More than 90 percent of the HIV cases that we have been providing assistance toÉare infected by their partners or husbands. Unequal gender relations place women at a more vulnerable position.”
Making her statement from a women’s shelter outside of Bangkok, Lazo explained this phenomenon to reporters from Agence France-Presse as being a result of “the culture of patriarchy [and] the culture of silence” pervasive in many developing Asian nations. Young women are particularly vulnerable to the disease in their societies, which both limit their ability to make demands of their male partners, such as wearing a condom and stigmatize sex-education. Furthermore, extra-marital affairs for men are the norm, while women are expected to enter into marriage as virgins, thus limiting their sexual knowledge, according to Agence France-Presse.
UNIFEM’s announcement precedes the 15th International AIDS Conference set to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from July 11 to 16. The forum is expecting to draw 20,000 delegates, including important world leaders, and has set the program to discuss an expansion of programs focusing on youth and women.