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Time to deliver on gender and HIV/AIDS.

This summer, more than 25,000 people from around the world gathered in Toronto to share new knowledge, experiences, and good practices in the worldwide battle against HIV/AIDS. The International AIDS Society chose "Time to Deliver" as the conference's theme, arguing that we already have the evidence and tools necessary to deal with the pandemic: what we lack are "the resources and the collective will to translate that knowledge and experience into broadly available treatment and prevention programs."

Part of what is also lacking in the "collective will" is a willingness to address gender. Despite a wealth of research on the role of gender in the pandemic, despite inspiring advocacy work by and for women living with HIV/AIDS, the needs of women and girls and gender considerations continue to be stunningly underrepresented in research, advocacy, and political agendas.

The International AIDS Conference itself is a case in point. During the 2002 conference in Barcelona, a mere 9.6 percent of posters, papers, or plenary presentations made mention of women and/or girls. Far fewer of these presentations focused on the needs of women and girls or on the gender dimensions of the pandemic. Two years later, at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, females appeared in just 8.3 percent of the program. Although women and girls were mentioned more frequently at the Toronto conference than in previous conferences, a preliminary analysis of the program suggests that gender analysis of the pandemic is still sadly lacking. Among sessions identified by conference organizers as having a gender component, more than one third did not mention either women or girls and many of those that did focused on sex differences rather than gender.

This issue of the Research Bulletin aims to redress this lack of attention to issues of gender and HIV. Beginning with a backgrounder on the ways in which sex and gender function to make women and girls susceptible to HIV, this issue offers the reader material to both better understand the epidemic and to begin to think through our responses to it.

For example, media representations of the epidemic continue to emphasize HIV transmission through sexual activity and/or injection drug use, and the life-extending impact of anti-retroviral therapies. However, we are only beginning to talk about the complex issues involved in infant feeding that arise when a mother has HIV/AIDS and we are only now coming to understand the connections between childhood trauma (including sexual, emotional, and physical abuse) and subsequent isolation from one's family and community, substance use, and women's risk of contracting HIV. Given complex issues of trauma, we can now better understand the relationship between these experiences and other social inequalities that shape the lives of some of Canada's Aboriginal peoples--it is no wonder that Aboriginal women face a disproportionate risk of HIV infection in Canada.

Clearly, we need an array of responses to reduce the risk of HIV infection and/or ameliorate its effects. Moreover, these responses need to be developed with sex and gender in mind. Given, for example, the increased rate of HIV infection among women from heterosexual transmission, the historic failure to tailor HIV/AIDS education and prevention messages and resources to young heterosexual men has had serious consequences--for both men and women.

We are learning that services originating in earlier phases of the epidemic are not necessarily appropriate for those who are currently infected. For example, are current counselling and other social support services meeting the needs of women with HIV? Are palliative care programs providing the kinds of education and support that caregivers for people with HIV/AIDS need? Are we using our program skills and resources to transform gender relations in ways that empower women and men, girls and boys to increase control over their health and their risks for HIV?

Given the evolving nature of the epidemic, both in Canada and worldwide, and our increasing understanding of how sex and gender are shaping this epidemic, it is long past "time to deliver" on gender and HIV/AIDS. We have recognized the problem; it is time to act.

Barbara Clow

Executive Director

Atlantic Centre

of Excellence

for Women's Health

Ann Pederson

Manager, Research and Policy

British Columbia

Centre of Excellence

for Women's Health
COPYRIGHT 2006 Canadian Women's Health Network
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clow, Barbara; Pederson, Ann
Publication:Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Next Article:An invisible epidemic: the implications of gender neutrality for managing HIV/AIDS in low-incidence countries.

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