Male violence against women is a leading cause of AIDS.
The UN has warned that AIDS is now the biggest killer worldwide of women of reproductive age.
One reason is that the majority of women worldwide – some 70 per cent – have at some point been forced to have unprotected sex. Fundamentally, new research shows, it is men’s violence against women that is leading to the rise in AIDS.
A bigger argument for the empowerment of women could scarcely be thought of. Women throughout history have been subject to violence and rape at the hands of men, and now that can lead not only to injury, unwanted pregnancy and psychological trauma, but also to death at an early age.
It is sometimes easy for us to forget this in the West, where we kid ourselves that we’re ‘equal’, but in much of the world, women cannot even control the most basic matters about their own lives such as their reproductive rights, who they have sex with, whom they marry, how they work or whether they can own property.
In South Africa – one of the most ‘macho’ nations in the world – HIV infection is three times more common in young women than in young men, partly due to the prevalence of rape in that society. And in sub-Saharan Africa, the biggest risk factors for AIDS are not to be gay, promiscuous or an intravenous drug user but to be a young married woman. Marriage effectively makes a woman a chattel of her husband in many societies, and their subordinate position makes it impossible for women to insist on safe sex.
In the light of this new research, the UN says it will now incorporate action against violence against women into its worldwide programme to conquer HIV.