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Discriminatory Beliefs Heighten HIV Risk for Women


A new study says inequality and discrimination can make women more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The report – from Physicians for Human Rights – bases its findings on research in Swaziland and Botswana. It links widespread discriminatory views about women to risky sex and very high HIV prevalence rates.

Leonard Rubenstein is the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. From Boston, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“The report is based on a survey and the survey listed a lot of questions to determine what beliefs may be discriminatory. They’re basically standardized questions concerning whether woman have the same rights in decision making as men, whether women get to decide about their future, about whether women should hold property. Things like that. These are attitudes that may be prevalent in society and we’re trying to distinguish beliefs that are discriminatory and those which are not,” he says.

Such information is not readily available. Rubenstein says, “No one really had looked at how gender discriminatory beliefs affects vulnerability to HIV. And so what we did is we questioned people in surveys in both countries about the beliefs. We questioned them about risky sexual practices, which are sex without condom, major age difference between the man and the woman, sex used for survival, for income, all of which likely lead to HIV. So we did a correlation between the discriminatory beliefs and the risky sexual practices. And what we found was the more sexual discriminatory beliefs that one has, whether a man or a woman, the more likely it is to engage in risky sexual practices.”

The study found that (for) people who hold four or more discriminatory beliefs, there’s a 2.7 greater likelihood of engaging in one of those risky sexual practices.

Physicians for Human Rights recommends that governments do much more to empower women by ensuring their rights and provide economic opportunities for them.

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