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Proposed Legislation Would Amend PEPFAR

In Washington, 53 members of Congress have introduced legislation to amend PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan to Fight AIDS. The legislation would require all programs funded by PEPFAR to address violence against women and girls. It would also eliminate the requirement that 33 percent of HIV prevention funds be spent on programs that promote abstinence until marriage.

Jodi Jacobson is the executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, one of the groups supporting the changes. From suburban Washington, she spoke with VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why she favors changes in PEPFAR.

“Violence against women is a major causal factor in HIV transmission. We have new date now, for example, from multi-country studies of the World Health Organization, showing that between 15 and 50 percent of women have ever in their life experienced some form of violence and sexual coercion. So when you have, for example, traditions of early marriage in which young girls or adolescents are married off early and they have little power in their marital relationship or when you have women who don’t have economic resources of their own may find themselves in a violent relationship and therefore unable to escape it. In fact that means they can’t control timing and frequency of sexual intercourse, which also means they likely can’t control whether or not their partner uses a condom.”

She says that the legislation would encourage community level work to change social norms and routine screening among women for sexual abuse. Jacobson also goes on to refute what she calls myths about condoms and abstinence programs.

“There’s absolutely no evidence whatever, wherever, in the United States or elsewhere, that providing condoms or other safer sex information or tools, methods, like condoms actually encourages sexual behavior…. There’s also no evidence, and in fact there’s evidence to the contrary in the United States, that abstinence until marriage or abstinence-only until marriage programs work to prevent HIV infection.”

Supporters of such programs have said promoting condom use can encourage sexual promiscuity and that abstinence programs are among best methods of preventing HIV infection.