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Consequences of the Lag in Education on Gender and Rights

World AIDS Day takes place on December 1 of each year and marks the importance of this day to talk about the effect of HIV on adolescent girls and young women.

The Woman Post | Lina Daniela Cardona Aguilar

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The disproportionate impact of the spread of HIV around the world has been concentrated on girls and young women. According to Avert, in 2017, 7.000 adolescents and young women tested positive for HIV. This rate is much higher than that of young men. Young women tend to be twice as vulnerable to contracting the virus as men. The region in which they live is critical to recognizing the positive female rates.

Social, cultural, and economic inequity is a factor associated with the disproportionate impact of HIV on girls and young women. However, one of the essential elements in the spread of HIV in this specific population is the barriers to accessing secondary and higher education. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) report "Educate Girls, Fight AIDS", if all girls completed their primary education, at least 7 million new cases of HIV could be prevented in a decade.

The importance of educating girls and adolescents as a way to fight HIV lies in giving them the necessary training to make decisions about their sexual lives. Comprehensive education that provides information on their sexual and reproductive rights will allow them to learn about contraception, protection, and prevention. Higher levels of education are strongly correlated with greater knowledge about HIV, communication between partners about HIV prevention, knowledge of test sites, among others.

According to the UNAIDS report "Women and HIV", providing information on the relationship between gender and power results in lower rates of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. Empowering adolescents and young women so that they know the tools through which they can have control over their sexual life and also, demand responsibility from their sexual partners, allows to reduce HIV infection. In addition, the control of men over the sexuality of adolescents and young women through misinformation and manipulation.

Also read: Why Are Black Women at Higher Risk of HIV?

On the other hand, education as a form of prevention, analyzed from a gender perspective, is closely related to sexual and intimate partner violence, as well as to the reduction of child or adolescent marriage.  According to Avert, each year around 12 million girls marry before the age of 18. It is essential to recognize that one of the factors that make women more vulnerable to contracting HIV is ignorance about gender-based violence.

Comprehensive education - sexual and reproductive - allows women to recognize the signs of violence and the avenues of care that can lead them to prevent risks of infection. According to "Women and HIV", girls and adolescents with no education are twice as likely to contract HIV as those with some schooling. The education given in educational institutions - schools, universities, etc. - as well as the programs implemented in different countries with a gender focus, have contributed to reducing taboos on sexuality and recognizing gender violence in order to be able to address it with the appropriate tools.

All educational institutions must address the problem that alerts see in the figures and tend to apply a gender and rights approach in their sexuality education courses or implement these courses if they do not have them, informing boys, girls, and young people alike. Comprehensive education can ensure that more than 30% of women in 35 countries know how to prevent HIV transmission. Likewise, an educational system that empowers girls and adolescents as managers and owners of their sexual lives also prevents them from suffering gender-based violence throughout their lives. The role of education in preventing HIV and reducing the factors that generate greater vulnerability in adolescents and young women is fundamental.

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