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AIDS Infection Of Women In Terrifying Pattern

AIDS Infection Of Women In 'Terrifying Pattern,' Annan Says On Women's Day

As the United Nations observed International Women's Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on men to assume the responsibilities that would reduce the "terrifying pattern" of HIV/AIDS infection among the world's women.

Among the positive behavioural changes that would give more confidence to women would be "change that makes men assume their responsibility - in ensuring an education for their daughters; abstaining from sexual behaviour that puts others at risk; forgoing relations with girls and very young women; and understanding that when it comes to violence against women, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses," he said in a message marking the Day, which is observed each year on 8 March.

Women were experiencing deepening poverty and they would become the majority of the world's people infected with HIV/AIDS if the current rates of infection continued, Mr. Annan said.

"Why, then, are women more vulnerable to infection - even though they are usually not the ones with the most sexual partners outside marriage, nor are they more likely more likely than men to be injecting drug users? Usually, because society's inequalities puts them at risk - unjust, unconscionable and untenable risk," he said.

Among the inequitable factors involved in women's deteriorating situation were poverty, abuse and violence, lack of information, coercion by older men and men having several partners, Mr. Annan said.

"That is why many mainstream prevention strategies are untenable; for example those based on the 'ABC' approach - abstain, be faithful, use a condom. Where sexual violence is widespread, abstinence, or insisting on condom use is not a realistic option for women and girls," he said.

Addressing a special panel discussion at UN Headquarters in New York on "Women and HIV/AIDS," he said the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, launched last month by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS ( UNAIDS), would work out specific steps to improve the daily lives of women and girls and build on the critical role that women already play in the fight against the disease.

He expressed hope that the November 2003 recommendations of the Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa that he had asked UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy to lead would inspire accelerated action by Governments and their partners in the nine most affected countries.

The Task Force said it found strong support in Southern Africa for the proposed "END" principles: "End gender-based violence; No to transactional sex and Drop the teenage girlfriends."

With regard to women's rights to empower themselves by owning assets independently, the Task Force said, "There was a call to write up customary laws and for them to be revised in accordance with international conventions in such a way that they do not discriminate against women. Many task force members argued for women to have the right to own property in their own right, irrespective of their marital status."

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