As the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, women and girls across the globe continue to be disproportionately affected by the AIDS pandemic - HIV is the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age worldwide.
IRIN/PlusNews presents five important ways to reduce women's vulnerability to HIV:
Education: According to UNAIDS, illiterate women are four times more likely to believe there is no way to prevent HIV infection, while in Africa and Latin America, girls with higher levels of education tend to delay first sexual experience and are more likely to insist their partner use a condom.
Educating girls has the added advantage of delaying their marriage and increasing their earning ability, both of which reduce their vulnerability to HIV. Educated women are also more likely to access health services for themselves and their children, and to oppose negative cultural practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
Access to reproductive health services: In many developing countries, women have very limited access to vital reproductive health services. A combination of biological and social factors means women are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which, if left untreated, increase their vulnerability to HIV.
Women living in humanitarian crises are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and require services such as free, easily available condoms and safe blood for transfusions.
Improving access to reproductive health services enables women to make informed choices in determining family size and preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission.
Ending gender violence: One in three women has been beaten, experienced sexual violence or otherwise abused in their lifetime, according to the UN; one in five will be a victim of rape or attempted rape. More often than not, the perpetrators are known to the women.
Practices such as early marriage, FGM/C and human trafficking all increase women's vulnerability to HIV, but more accepted forms of violence, such as marital rape, also play a large part in increasing women's HIV risk.
|Experiencing violence increases the risk of HIV infection by a factor of three|
|In Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria, at least 40 percent of women are married before the age of 15|
|Globally, just 38 percent of young women have accurate, comprehensive knowledge of HIV|
According to UNAIDS, investment in HIV programming policies and addressing gender inequality and gender-based violence will help to achieve universal targets of HIV prevention, treatment and care.
Economic empowerment: In his book, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, Richard Robbins states that women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive 10 percent of the world's income and own just own 1 percent of the means of production.
Poverty prevents poor women from controlling when sexual intercourse takes place and if a condom is used, and often forces women into risky transactional sex to feed themselves and their families.
According to a 2010 US Government study, empowerment activities such as micro-finance give women access to and control over vital economic resources, ultimately enhancing their ability not only to mitigate the impact of HIV, but also to be less vulnerable to HIV.
Involving men: More often than not, men control the dynamics of how, when and where sex happens. Encouraging more men to use condoms consistently has the knock-on effect of protecting their sexual partners from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Men are less likely than women to seek health services; in the case of men involved with multiple women, this means STIs remain untreated for long periods while their female partners are also at risk of infection.
Teaching boys and young men to respect women, to be more involved in family activities and to avoid negative behaviour such as gender violence and alcohol abuse helps groom a generation of men who are less likely to take risks that endanger themselves and their families.