DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

Women and HIV/AIDS: Select Facts

July 29, 2006


Women are increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

  • Half of the 40 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are female, up from 41% in 1997 and 35% in 1985.[1],[2] 
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 59% of PLWHA are female, and the number of women living with HIV increased by 1 million between 2003 and 2005.[1],[3]
  • In the Caribbean 51% of PLWHA are women, up from 30% in 1999.[3] ,[4]
  • AIDS is the leading cause of death for women in Honduras.[3]
  • In India, 39% of PLWHA are women.[5]
  • In China, women constituted 39% of reported HIV cases in 2004, up from 25% two years earlier.[3]
  • In the U.S., the number of women living with HIV/AIDS increased 15% between 1999 and 2003, compared with 1% in men.[6] African American women are 12 times more likely to be infected with HIV than white women and AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25 to 34.[3]
  • In Russia in 2004, 38% of known PLWHA were women—a larger share than ever before.[3]

Young people, especially young women, are disproportionately at risk.

  • Young people (aged 15-24) accounted for 40% of the 4.1 million new HIV infections in 2005.[3]
  • Young women account for 62% of PLWHA who are between the ages of 15 and 24.[7]
  • The peak age for HIV prevalence among women is around 25—ten to 15 years younger than the peak age for men.[8]
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 76% of HIV-positive young people are female.[7]
  • In South Asia, 62% are female.8 In India, the number of young women living with HIV/AIDS is twice that of young men.[5]
  • HIV prevalence among girls under 18 is four to seven times higher than among boys in many countries of eastern and southern Africa.[9]
  • In Uganda, the risk of HIV infection doubles for girls 15-19 who have male partners ten or more years older.[10]
  • Among teens 13-19 in the United States, girls account for over 50% of new HIV infections.[11]

Women and girls do not have access to comprehensive information and services.

  • Only 26% of girls 10-19 in Somalia have heard of AIDS, and only 1% know how to protect themselves from the virus.8
  • In Bangladesh, less than 20% of married women have heard of AIDS.[12]
  • In India, if AIDS education is even offered in schools, it is to young people 15 and older.  Yet 42% of boys and 69% of girls 15-17 are not in school.[13]

  • One in four young South Africans believe that sex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS.[14]

The biggest HIV/AIDS risk for many women and girls is marriage.

  • More than four-fifths of new infections in women result from sex with their husband or primary partners.[15]
  • At least 50% of Senegalese women living with HIV/AIDS have only one risk factor: living in a monogamous union.[16]
  • In India, 27% of male clients of male sex workers are married or living with a female partner.[12]
  • In Mexico, over 30% of women discover their HIV status after their husbands are diagnosed.[17]

Sexual coercion and violence lead to a greater chance of infection.

  • One in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.[18]
  • Fearing violence or rejection, 58% of African girls avoid discussing condom use with their partners.14 Yet in couples where only one partner is infected with HIV, consistent and correct condom use provides the HIV negative person with a near zero risk of infection.[19] 
  • Women in South Africa who are in relationships with violent or domineering men are 50% more likely to contract HIV than women not involved in abusive relationships.[20] 
  • A study among high school students in Swaziland found that almost one in five of the sexually active female students’ first sexual experience had been coerced.[3]
  • In South Africa, 30% of girls say their first intercourse was forced, and 71% have experienced sex against their will.[16]

[1] UNAIDS, AIDS Epidemic Update 2005: December 2005.

[2] UNFPA/UNAIDS/UNIFEM, “Women and AIDS: Confronting the Crisis,” 2004.

[3] UNAIDS, 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic: June 2006.

[4] Pan-American Health Organization, “The UNGASS, Gender and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Washington, D.C.: December 2002.

[5] Kaiser Family Foundation, “HIV/AIDS in India,” September 2005.

[6] Quinn, Thomas C. and Overbaugh, Julie. “HIV/AIDS in Women: An Expanding Epidemic.” Science, June 10, 2005.

[7] UNAIDS, AIDS Epidemic Update 2004: December 2004.

[8] UNFPA, “State of World Population: Investing in Adolescents’ Health and Rights,” 2003.

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Policy Paralysis: A Call for Action on HIV/AIDS-Related Human Rights Abuses Against Women and Girls in Africa,” December 2003.

[10] International Center for Research on Women, “Cross Generational Sex Fueling the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa,” August 2003.

[11] Kaiser Family Foundation, “The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States,” February 2006.

[12] UNAIDS, 2004 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic: July 2004.

[13] UNICEF/UNAIDS/WHO, “Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis,” June 2002.

[14] Lovelife, 200, from Vetten L and Bhanna K, “A Preliminary Investigation into the Links Between Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS in South Africa,” November 2003.

[15] UNFPA, “State of World Population: The Promise of Equality: Gender Equity, Reproductive Health and the MDGs,” 2005.

[16] UNAIDS, “Gender and HIV/AIDS: Taking stock of research and programmes,” 1999.

[17] UNIFEM, “Women’s Human Rights: Gender and HIV/AIDS,” 2002.

[18] UNIFEM, “Not a Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women,” November 2003.

[19] Women’s Coalition for ICPD, “Condoms and Disease Prevention,” 1999.

[20] Kristin L. Dunkle et al, “Gender-based Violence, Relationship Power and Risk of HIV Infection in Women Attending Antenatal Clinics in South Africa,” Lancet, May 1, 2004


Prepared by the International Women’s Health Coalition, last updated June 8, 2006. For more information, contact Cami Hilsendager, Communications Assistant, at 212-979-8500 or chilsendager@iwhc.org.


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