As leading health decision-makers arrive in Melbourne for AIDS 2014 – the world’s biggest HIV & AIDS conference – CARE Australia says the huge inequality between women and men in parts of Asia-Pacific is hampering efforts to tackle HIV & AIDS in the region.
Ahead of the conference, CARE is urging governments and health groups to ensure gender inequality is tackled as part of efforts to combat the spread of HIV & AIDS.
A recent CARE-conducted survey with more than 600 young men and women in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Autonomous Region of Bougainville showed that while more than 80 per cent of those surveyed indicated they knew that using condoms was a method of HIV prevention, less than 40 per cent of women reported using a condom during sex and only 14.5 per cent reported that they used a condom every time they had intercourse.
CARE Papua New Guinea’s Assistant Country Director, Blossum Gilmour said that the figures indicated that in PNG, which has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the East Asia/Pacific region, many women do not have the power to negotiate sex or condom use.
‘A woman’s power to say no to sex, or negotiate with her partner to use a condom, is the best way to prevent HIV infection. Yet in PNG, too few women have the power to do this,’ said Ms Gilmour.
She said giving women control over their sexual rights, their sexual health and their ability to negotiate sex with their partner was vital to reducing the spread of HIV in PNG.
‘That countless women in Asia-Pacific do not have the power to say no to sex is one of the greatest barriers to tackling HIV & AIDS in our region. We urge decision-makers at AIDS 2014 to keep this in mind as they come together to over the coming days.’
Ms Gilmour added that any efforts to address a woman’s power to say no to unprotected sex must also be targeted at men.
‘This is as much about empowering women as it is about educating men and changing their attitudes to sex and women. In PNG we need to ensure HIV education and health promotion is targeted at changing ingrained attitudes and behaviours.’
CARE has worked to address community awareness and attitudes to HIV in PNG since 2008 CARE’s program in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Komuniti Tingim AIDS (‘Community Thinking AIDS’) works with government, community leaders and youth to address attitudes and behaviours around sexual health and HIV & AIDS.
Globally, CARE has 31 HIV & AIDS programs in 20 countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, working with 5.6 million people. This work is focused on preventing infection amongst at-risk groups including young people and sex workers. Many of CARE’s programs also focus on education, support and reducing the stigma associated with HIV & AIDS.
AIDS 2014 is the world’s biggest HIV & AIDS conference, with over 12,000 people attending next week’s event in Melbourne, including former US President Bill Clinton, anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof and UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé.