NEW YORK—Struggling against poverty, violence, gender inequity, and rigid cultural and religious norms, women are becoming the face of the worldwide HIV-pandemic, said Cynthia Poindexter at the Institute for Women and Girls’ second annual Women’s Symposium.
According to Poindexter, an associate professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service, almost half of the 40 million persons infected with the virus worldwide are women; and the numbers are increasing. The number of U.S. women infected with HIV rose by a third between 2001 and 2003. The situation is even more dire for minorities in the United States, as black and Latino women account for approximately 80 percent of women with AIDS, yet they represent only 25 percent of the total female population.
“We tend to think of our [U.S.] epidemic as being under control, but the proportion of women to total HIV cases in the U.S. is increasing faster than in any other country,” said Poindexter.
The situation for women is exponentially worse in the developing world, where 98 percent of all women with HIV live. In developing counties, women have historically been denied equal access to education, housing, health care, public assistance and legal representation, all of which can make them more vulnerable to the disease.
Tonya Perry, Ph.D., an associate professor in Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service, said during a panel discussion following Poindexter’s presentation that promoting social and economic empowerment is vital to stemming the surge in HIV infections among women. She is a former John Hopkins International AIDS Research Fellow who has traveled extensively throughout Africa examining the impact of HIV among women.
“Certainly we must focus on preventative intervention, but it is clear that in order for our efforts to truly make a difference we must address the interplay between gender and socioeconomic inequality and vulnerability to HIV,” said Perry.
An increase in funding for AIDS education, behavior modification and socio-economic reform is necessary to mitigate the factors that are working against women in this pandemic, said Elizabeth Cooper, J.D., an associate professor at Fordham Law School who worked as counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s AIDS Project in New York City during the early 1990’s.
“When HIV is being helped along its destructive path by authority, then that authority must be confronted, whether it’s a patriarchal culture, a neglecting government, a profit-seeking pharmaceutical company or an unresponsive religious body,” said Poindexter. “When tradition, politics, and dogma contribute to death, how can we let that stand?”
The Institute for Women and Girls and the International Center at the Graduate School of Social Service sponsored the symposium