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U.S. Programs on Women and HIV/AIDS

U.S. Programs on Women and HIV/AIDS

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks at the Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
November 29, 2004

Thank you, Ambassador Tobias. I'm delighted to be here with you, Secretary Thompson, and Administrator Natsios. Each of you has done so much to fight HIV/ AIDS and to help the women and men who are living with this pandemic--or are at risk of becoming infected.

HIV/AIDS requires first and foremost prevention, treatment, and care. Ambassador Tobias and Secretary Thompson have described the unprecedented investment that President Bush has made and Congress has supported.

Yet, HIV/AIDS is not strictly a health issue. Political, economic, and social factors have also contributed to this deadly epidemic. This is especially true with respect to women.

Just last week, a new report prepared jointly by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization stated that the rate of infection is growing more rapidly in women than men in almost every region of the world, referring to this as the "feminization" of HIV/AIDS. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 57% of persons living with HIV/AIDS are now women--and women between 15 and 24 years of age are three to six times more likely to become infected than their male peers.

Especially in the developing world, women shoulder the greatest burdens of HIV/ AIDS, often bearing the brunt of caretaking for those who are ill while themselves facing unequal access to medical care. This can have wider implications; in some areas, eight out of 10 farmers are women and their diversion from the productive sector leads to deprivation for the whole family, affecting even basic food security.

Ambassador Tobias has mentioned a number of important initiatives for women that his office oversees, such as the President's Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Initiative, which makes critical drugs available to prevent newborn infants from becoming infected by their mothers.

But there are many other programs that the State Department and the Administration as a whole have undertaken specifically to address aspects of women's lives that may put them at risk. These programs seek to empower women politically and economically, helping them assert greater control over their lives.

Education is an essential first step in creating opportunities and increasing the choices available to women and girls. We collaborate closely with USAID on projects that increase gender equality in basic education and provide training and vocational skills that can give women new hope and change their lives.

We also work to advance the rule of law and women's human rights, including reducing domestic violence and pressing for property and inheritance rights. President Bush has called respect for women a non-negotiable demand of human dignity, and this administration has sought to promote that respect diplomatically and programmatically. The lack of property and inheritance rights in particular can keep women financially dependent on men and can limit their control over their lives, including their sexual decisions.

Micro-enterprise programs can help women out of poverty, supplying additional income, creating new possibilities, and improving lives. The United States has provided over $150 million per year since 2000 for these programs and women represent 70% of the clients receiving micro-credit loans.

In addition, we support leadership training that prepares women to run for political office, lead businesses or non-governmental organizations, or work as journalists. We have brought over 300 women to the United States through one such program in 2003 and 2004. They return home with new tools to advocate on behalf of other women in their own countries and regions. U.S. programs also assist at-risk population groups.

For example, women and children make up the majority of victims of trafficking-in-persons, and many are forced into sexual slavery and unable to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. The United States Government as a whole spent some $295 million since 2000 to combat trafficking, educate potential victims, and aid those who have already suffered. More needs to be done to understand the linkages among trafficking, prostitution, and public health, including HIV/AIDS.

Most refugees are women and children as well. Because of their desperate circumstances, they can face higher risks from HIV/AIDS and other diseases. In 2004, we spent over $930 million to assist refugees. This includes targeted HIV /AIDS programs for refugees, such as health education and prevention of maternal to child transmission activities in refugee camps in Tanzania. The U.S. has also supported international programs to reduce gender-based violence, including sexual violence.

We recognize that the problem of women and HIV/AIDS is multi-dimensional and we are pursuing a multi-dimensional response. U.S. programs in education, women's rights, micro-enterprise development, and leadership training can help to empower women, while our efforts to combat trafficking-in-persons and assist refugees can help some of those facing greater risk. Together with the work of the President's historic Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, we can and will make a difference. Thank you.

[End]

Released on December 7, 2004


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