Womens’ roles in HIV/AIDS have drastically changed since the first cases were diagnosed 25 years ago. When the virus was first discovered, females were expected to protect themselves against infection by insisting their partners wear protection or remain abstinent. Recently, though, there has been a switch in how HIV is looked at in regards to gender relations. Now, women are thought of as being extremely vulnerable to HIV infection because heterosexual males are active transmitters of the virus but are not active in prevention (Higgins, Hoffman, and Dworkin, 436).
Women are biologically more susceptible to contracting HIV because the female reproductive system has a larger mucosal surface that remains in contact with genital secretions and seminal fluid for a long time (Women, HIV, and AIDS). When STIs are left untreated, it may result in ulcerations of the vaginal wall that act as routes of entry for HIV. I would not, however, place the sole blame on the gender disparity for contraction on biological differences. Two-thirds of an estimated 40.3 million people who are infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide reside in sub-Saharan Africa, 77% of which are women. There are many factors that contribute to women’s heightened vulnerability in Africa, but much is attributed to women’s loss of control over their sexuality. In Africa, there are many harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, scarification, tattooing, wife inheritance, polygamy, sexual violence in the form of rape, and incest and forced prostitution that make females sexually inferior to men. In a majority of these communities, females are the sole caretakers for their families, which contributes to the spread of HIV to their offspring and family members (Iyayi, Iginomwanhia, Bardi, and Iyayi 114).
Women are increasingly becoming the face for the HIV/AIDS virus. Young people accounted for 40% of the 4.2 million new HIV infections in 2005, and young women accounted for 62% of people living with HIV/AIDS between the ages of 15 and 24 (Iyayi, Iginomwanhia, Bardi, and Iyayi 115). The factors that make women more likely to contract the virus can be viewed in the context of sexual inequality, which could affect the dynamics of sexual relationships. If there is not more emphasis on the male’s necessity to take on greater preventative measures when engaging in sexual relations, the virus will begin to spread at an even more rapid pace.
It is interesting that when you look back at the historic treatment of HIV/AIDS in our society, it was originally attributed to gay men and injection drug users. The only mention of females’ involvement in contraction was the role sex workers played in spreading it to heterosexual men. This evolution needs to be reflected in public health campaigns that are targeted at increasing knowledge of the virus and of preventative measures. Women also need to be economically independent in order to self sustain themselves and not have to depend on males for their well being. If the idea of economic stability is constantly running through women’s minds, they will never speak up to make sure they are engaging in safe sex and are not at risk for contracting this awful virus.
Higgins, Jenny, Susie Hoffman, and Shari Dworkin. “Rethinking Gender, Heterosexual Men, and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.” Framing Health Matters 100.3 (2010): 435-45. Print.
Iyayi, Festus, R. Osaro Iginomwanhia, Anthonia Bardi, and Omole O. Iyayi. “The Control of Nigerian Women over Their Sexuality in an Era of HIV/AIDS: A Study of Women in Edo State in Nigeria.” International NGO 6.5 (2011): 113-21. Print.
“Women, HIV, and AIDS.” Averting HIV and AIDS. AVERT, 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. .