HIV is often characterized as a disease that overwhelmingly affects gay and bisexual men, subsequently obscuring the significant and unique risks experienced by women. In truth, 27 percent of all new HIV cases are attributed to women, making HIV/AIDS the leading cause of deathworldwide for women aged 15-44.
Women are subjected to various institutional barriers that escalate the risk of infection and prevent access to treatment.
On National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, it is imperative that we recognize the threat of HIV facing women of all ages, encourage steps towards ending the epidemic among women, and empower women to affect the global response to HIV.
Around the world, women encounter institutional barriers that increase the risks and impact of HIV. The failure by public institutions to promote comprehensive sex education, both in the United States and abroad, has limited awareness of the dangers of HIV infection for women.
Women also comprise two-thirds of the world’s 800 million illiterate adults, a product of social hierarchies that limit educational opportunities for girls and women. As a result, women are frequently unable to access desperately needed information about sexual health, STI testing, and available treatments.
Women are also exposed to the risks of HIV through sexual assault. In the United States, one in five women is sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Our society’s failure to properly address sexual assault has endangered women while allowing perpetrators to routinely walk free.
Women face greater risk of HIV infection not only through the incidence of sexual assault, but also as a result of the life-long trauma and symptoms that can result from sexual assault. For that reason, GMHC’s Safety in Housing program offers housing to individuals suffering from unstable housing as a result of intimate partner violence.
Women with HIV have also struggled to attain proper healthcare. As of 2012, only 55 percent of women living with HIV received continuous treatment, only 39 percent of women had been prescribed antiretroviral therapy, and only 30 percent had achieved viral suppression.
Since the early days of the HIV epidemic, the HIV-positive community has struggled to receive affordable access to care and treatment. For HIV-positive women, access to treatment is further complicated by gender inequities in employment and pay.
Moreover, 62 percent of all women diagnosed with HIV in 2014 were African American and 16 percent were Hispanic, signaling the prevalence of HIV among women of color susceptible to additional barriers to care.
Programs such as those offered through GMHC’s Women’s Care, Prevention, and Support Division, and our Empowerment program for transgender women, play a vital role in expanding access to testing and treatment for women who are most at risk.
Continue onto The Hill to read more about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.