Women's rights latest ammo against AIDS

Researchers say improving women's lot will stem the virus' spread in Africa.

Published May 25, 2007 11:10PM (EDT)

No way. Gender equality is good for more than just shutting up us tiresome feminists -- try fortifying the battle against AIDS. Researchers say gender parity could be key in successfully fighting AIDS in Africa, where the virus has infected nearly 25 million people. (Women account for a whopping 75 percent of those cases.)

Physicians for Human Rights conducted a study of 2,000 women in Botswana and Swaziland and found that "greater social and economic inequality between the sexes directly correlated to the HIV risk faced by African women," reports Reuters. It makes perfect sense: "Despite the differences in the two countries, the women in the samples have very similar demographics ... they were poorer, had a greater number of dependents, were less educated and were less food sufficient," said Karen Leiter, co-author of the study. "They are compelled often by their circumstances to engage in sexual behavior that raises their HIV risk." Read: Their lack of financial independence weakened their control over their sexual lives. On top of that, cultural double standards make it more likely for men to have multiple sex partners.

Here's the clincher: Local politicos will have to, um, actually do something about it. "If we are to reduce the continuing, extraordinary HIV prevalence ... the countries' leaders need to enforce women's legal rights," Leiter said. There were calls for widespread circumcision after it was shown to dramatically reduce HIV transmission rates in Africa; the findings sent shock waves around the world and led to New York's circumcision campaign. How will the response to this news -- which effectively calls for a cultural coup d'état -- compare?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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