Preventing HIV Infection

Addressing Gender Perspectives in HIV Prevention

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What Have We Learned So Far?

Mainstreaming gender concerns into HIV prevention programming - including addressing power dynamics and overcoming socio-cultural barriers - is essential.

This implies understanding and responding to the specific challenges faced by particular groups of girls and boys, women and men, in decisionmaking and in negotiating safer and voluntary sex, as well as fostering open discussion on sexual health and challenging negative gender norms.

Empowerment strategies that enable girls and women to develop self-esteem, critical thinking, assertiveness, and gain access to increased opportunities and economic autonomy have proven effective for HIV prevention.

Enabling boys and young men to challenge negative masculine stereotypes supports them in resisting unwanted peer pressures and taking greater care of themselves and their partners.

Lack of respect for women’s reproductive rights can be significant deterrents to HIV prevention.

Younger or unmarried women often face discrimination in services based on age and marital status, and are more likely to suffer from disrespectful treatment.

HIV-positive pregnant women face extremely difficult choices given the strong social correlations of fertility and motherhood with social acceptance, marital harmony, and self-identify and fulfillment.

Lack of access to services along with fears of coercive HIV-related counseling or interventions resulting in lack of respect for reproductive choices, of blame and shame, and of their status being revealed may keep them away from timely care.

Instilling gender equity values as early as possible empowers young people to protect themselves from HIV infection.

Gender identities are solidified during adolescence and youth, which is also when the majority of the world’s population becomes sexually active, yet young people most often lack access to gender-sensitive sexual health education and services, including condoms for those sexually active.

Fostering norms and values of mutual care, respect and equality between the sexes at the earliest ages possible can enable girls and boys to develop a more positive, responsible outlook on sexuality and reproductive health issues and acquire preventive behaviours.

Gender-based violence renders girls and women directly and indirectly susceptible to HIV/AIDS.

Globally, an estimated 1 in 5 women suffers physical abuse from an intimate partner, and one-third to one half of abused women also report sexual violence. Girls are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, incest, rape and trafficking, and are often targets of systematic rape and other forms of sexual abuse in times of war and emergency situations - directly exposing them to HIV.

Fears of abuse or abandonment can deter women from seeking HIV counseling and testing, as well as from informing their partners of test results.

UNGASS Targets:

“By 2005, bearing in mind … that globally women and girls are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, develop and accelerate the implementation of national strategies that: promote the advancement of women and women’s full enjoyment of all human rights; promote shared responsibility of men and women to ensure safe sex; empower women to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality to increase their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection” (Paragraph 59); and eliminate “all forms of discrimination, as well as all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful traditional and customary practices, abuse, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, battering and trafficking in women and girls”.
- Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS
Special Session of the UN General Assembly, June 2001 (Paragraph 61)

“By 2005, implement measures to increase capacities of women and adolescent girls to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection, principally through the provision of health care and health services, including sexual and reproductive health, and through prevention education that promotes gender equality within a culturally and gender sensitive framework”.
- Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS
Special Session of the UN General Assembly, June 2001 (Paragraph 60).

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