The human-rights group, Amnesty International says that women in rural South Africa are hardest hit by rampant poverty, unemployment, and gender inequality. And, says Amnesty, because of this, they face a higher risk of being infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV infections in the world and over half of those infected are women.

A just released report by Amnesty International says that rural women are hardest hit - suffering from poverty and a higher likelihood of contracting HIV.

Amnesty's Mary Rayner tells VOA that because of poverty and high unemployment, rural women have little control or choices in their relationships with men.

"One manifestation of this problem was in the area of sexual and reproductive rights," she said. "Women who felt in a socially vulnerable position and economically marginalized, found it very difficult to be able to ask their partners to use condoms and sometimes when they tried they might experience verbal aggression and sometimes violence and as a result in these abusive situations women become vulnerable to HIV infection."

The Amnesty report also says that due to poverty many women cannot afford to travel to health facilities for HIV and AIDS treatment. Also, they do not have access to adequate daily food to take with their medication.

Mary Rayner says critical years in combating AIDS were lost when President Thabo Mbeki's government publicly expressed skepticism about the causes and cure of HIV and AIDS. Rayner adds that the earlier ambivalence has now been replaced by genuine efforts on the part of health officials and some senior people in government to deal with the situation.

"Hopefully they will now make up some ground and there is an effort now to try and decentralize the provision of health care services and to make it easier for rural women to access medication and treatment, as a consequence there is some sense that things will gradually improve, but unfortunately time has been lost," said Rayner.

Five-and-one-half-million South Africans are HIV-infected and 55 percent of these are women. The Amnesty report says South African women under age 25 are three to four times more likely to be HIV-infected than men in the same age group.

Amnesty International based its report on interviews with rural women in several South African provinces.