Cover Image
close this bookAgenda for Action: Background Materials to the 4rth World Conference on Women (UNAIDS, 1995, 9 p.)
View the documentSummary
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHow HIV/AIDS is spreading among women
View the documentEconomic subordination leads to HIV vulnerability
View the documentFemale biological vulnerability to HIV
View the documentImpact of HIV/AIDS on women
View the documentResponding to reality: agenda for action
View the documentDr Eka Esu Williams, Nigeria
View the documentReducing the vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS
View the documentReducing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women
View the documentCaring for women with HIV/AIDS
View the documentConclusion
View the documentAnnex

Economic subordination leads to HIV vulnerability

In virtually every society, women face discrimination in education, employment, and social status, resulting in economic vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. This includes, for example:

· discrimination that girls face in both educational institutions and the family; for example, girls who are encouraged to take different subjects from those taken by boys have less access to financial and other family resources, and are often withdrawn from school to assume domestic responsibilities;

· occupational segregation of women into low-paying clerical and service jobs, unequal pay and fewer promotions (vis-is men), fewer workplace benefits and concentration of women in the informal sector;

· lack of access to technical assistance, training and credit; for example, in agricultural sector development, policies have traditionally provided funds and technical training to men involved in cash crop farming and not to women, who have been more likely to be engaged in subsistence farming.

Households headed by women are much more likely to be financially poor than those in which there is a working resident male. Women’s economic dependence on male partners in order to avoid poverty for themselves and their children makes it difficult for women to negotiate safer sex practices to protect themselves from infection.

Some national laws reinforce women’s economic dependence on men. Laws that restrict property ownership and inheritance to men, and in some cases limit women’s ability to enter into independent contracts or obtain credit under their own names, impede women’s ability to control income and property, and reinforce their economic dependence on male relatives. This dependence makes it difficult for them to refuse sexual practices that put them at risk of STDs and HIV infection. Laws regarding marriage, divorce, and child custody can impede women’s ability to leave relationships in which they or their children are physically or sexually abused, or exposed to the risk of HIV infection.

Worldwide, many women rely on prostitution, or sex work, for economic survival. The proportion and the number of women who do so, in both developed and developing countries, is often directly related to the economy and the level of unemployment. In many parts of the world, prostitution is illegal and underground, which means that prostitutes may have to work without adequate control over the conditions of the sex work transaction.

A woman in Asia put in a nutshell the dilemma faced by so many women like herself across the world: AIDS might make me sick one day, she said. But if I don’t work my family would not eat and we would all be sick anyway.

Migration as a result of war, famine, political oppression or poverty, can increase a woman’s vulnerability to HIV infection if she is isolated from community structures, and does not speak or read the local language. Furthermore, women who are migrant workers, refugees or returnees are often more vulnerable than other women to some kind of sexual barter, (e.g., to obtain entry or residence permits, in exchange for transport, or to obtain or hold onto jobs), receiving financial support from men with whom they have sex, or engaging in formal prostitution. Similarly, when men migrate to urban centres, leaving wives and girlfriends at home, they may have other partners in cities.

There is often a lack of social and financial support to help women with HIV infection plan for the care of their surviving, and often healthy, children. This lack of support increases the emotional and psychological stress among women who understand that they are going to die while their children are still young. In some countries, as the number of children orphaned as a result of the epidemic has increased, some women have assumed responsibility for these children, taking them into their homes, often without any financial or other support, and often with inadequate space, food, or other supplies.