When AIDS emerged in the 1980s, it mostly affected men. But today women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV worldwide. Over the past two years, the number of HIV-positive women and girls has increased in every region of the world, with rates rising most rapidly in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa, 76 per cent of the young people (aged 15-24 years) living with HIV are female.
Most of the women who suffer from HIV/AIDS are in the prime of their productive lives. Simply being identified as HIV positive may result in discrimination, gender-based violence, unemployment, abandonment or the loss of other human rights and freedoms.
The death of women from AIDS deprives families and communities of their love, care, resourcefulness and enterprise. The epidemic affects young and old alike. It injures those who fall ill and those who survive from a teenager who barters sexual favours for school fees to a grandmother who toils to care for a houseful of orphans.
The feminization of the epidemic brings into sharp relief the inequalities that shape people's behaviour and limit the options women have to protect themselves. Many women are very vulnerable to HIV even though they do not practise high-risk behaviour. In some places, marriage itself is a risk factor.
Advocacy for the health and rights of women and girls has long been a major part of the work of UNFPA. As a leader in HIV prevention and in sexual and reproductive health, UNFPA works to reduce the impact of the epidemic on women and girls by:
Promoting gender equality
Reducing the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV
Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health, including to commodities such as male and female condoms
Preventing mother-to-child transmission
Advancing the rights and sexual and reproductive health of women living with HIV
UNFPA is part of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, a worldwide network of civil society groups, governments, UN agencies, and concerned citizens who have come together to make the AIDS response work better for women. A dynamic, diverse, but coherent alliance, the Coalition is dedicated to empowering women to take control of their own lives in a world with AIDS. The alliance:
Builds awareness of the increasing global impact of AIDS on women and girls
Helps meet a series of ambitious international targets; to support the wider global AIDS response
Improves prevention activity for women and girls
Addresses severe societal and legal inequities which compound the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls
UNFPA, along with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and YoungPositives, co-convene the GCWA thematic area on HIV prevention in young women and girls.