The main drivers of the HIV epidemic are influenced by a wide range of gender inequalities. HIV positive women and adolescent girls face a number of issues and challenges that come with being HIV positive. These issues include gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, unequal access to information, including sexual health knowledge and a lack of negotiating power with their partners (which at the end of the day places women and adolescent girls at increased risk of HIV infection), and even co-infection like TB for those already living with HIV.
As we grow up as young girls we are always taught that men will always have power over women as they are known to be the head of the family. With that instilled in our minds from a very young age it is the very same reason we experience issues like gender-based violence and inability to negotiate things like using a condom with our partners. Girls and women are not empowered enough and have little power or control over decisions relating to the sexual behaviour of their partners, such as condom use and safer sex, and don’t know when their rights are being violated.
The power imbalance between men and women also translates into economic dependency for women. In most societies, men have greater control and access to productive resources. Women and young girls may feel pressured to stay in risky or abusive relationships with men because of the economic consequences of leaving. Being unemployed and having limited income-earning opportunities are a common challenge for girls and women around the world. As young girls and women we are forced to exchange sexual favours for money or gifts in order to meet our basic needs, support our families, pay for school or pay rent for those in universities and do not have that kind of support from families. The main drivers for such actions are none other than not being empowered, poverty, and peer pressure.
As young girls we need to be empowered from a very young age so that we know what we are entitled to when it comes to relationships and know our sexual reproductive health rights in order for us to make well informed and right decisions. Change is needed to ensure that girls and women are the drivers of their own futures. Empowered women and young girls contribute to the health and productivity of their families, communities and countries, that way creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone including themselves.
Thank you for your generous support of the ICW Young Women's Media Team