'Gender inequality root cause' of African Aids crisis

The key to winning the fight against HIV/Aids is changing societies from within and raising awareness on sexual and reproductive health, says Sirpa Pietikäinen.

By Sirpa Pietikäinen

Sirpa Pietikäinen (FI, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s Special Committee on the Protection of Animals during Transport, and a substitute member of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety

20 Nov 2014

One of the most important things to remember in the fight against HIV/Aids is that it is not purely a medical issue – it is also a development issue with broad political implications. In Europe, the disease is mostly under control. Nevertheless, it continues to spread, especially in developing countries. Globally, great progress has been made towards ending Aids, yet it remains a critical development challenge. Poverty, gender inequality and lack of education, information and contraception increase the risk of contagion.

For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 70 per cent of young people living with HIV are women. Usually, women know less than men about how the disease is transmitted and how to protect themselves from infection. Even when they are aware of how to protect themselves from infection, a lot of the time this knowledge is of no use, because of violence and because they are not in a position to turn down sex or ask to use a condom, especially if they are married.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 70 per cent of young people living with HIV are women"

Gender inequality is a root cause of the problem. It may even be harder to solve this problem than to achieve medical breakthroughs. When combating the spread of the virus, it is important to take into account the critical role that gender inequalities play in sexual and reproductive life. In addition, it is important to recognise the role that discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community plays. In countries where gay communities have no choice but to operate largely underground, there is a higher risk of contagion.

The EU has both the political power and the resources to work towards preventing the spread of the disease – a disease that has killed more than 25 million people in three decades. Such resources are needed in order to improve access to sexual and reproductive education. Europe must put political pressure on countries that have criminalised sex between men. It must also support NGOs working for gender equality and the rights of LGBT people. This is something feminists and political scientists have been saying for more than five decades. People may be tired of hearing it, but it remains true to this day. The key to winning the fight against HIV/Aids is to change some of the structures of societies suffering from this problem.


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