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close this bookYoung Women: Silence, Suspectibility and the HIV Epidemic (UNDP, 10 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGender as an independent variable for hiv infection
View the documentSilence
View the documentAge as an independent variable for hiv infection
View the documentAnatomy as destiny?
View the documentSituational factors
View the documentThe unheard scream
View the documentThe prophetic voice
View the documentAn action agenda
View the documentBreaking the silence
View the documentChanging the operational research agenda
View the documentSanctuaries
View the documentSanctions
View the documentSafety
View the documentRestructuring gender
View the documentThe circle of the dance
View the documentReferences


The first diagnosed case of AIDS in a woman was recorded as early as 1982, in the first year of the known epidemic. In 1984, the first joint US/Belgian mission to Zaire clinically diagnosed virtually as many women with AIDS as men. Nevertheless the characterization of the epidemic by gender (male) and sexual orientation (homosexual) remained dominant.

In 1986 two critical studies, by gender and age, became available. One from the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, showed one in ten women attending the ante-natal clinic infected with HIV and, amongst the hospital patients:

· one in three men aged 30 to 35 were infected;
· one in four women aged 20 to 25 were infected.

The other study reported the first 500 cases of AIDS diagnosed in Mama Yemo Hospital, Zaire (Figure 1)2. This data set was also remarkable in showing:

· as many women as men were diagnosed with AIDS;
· the diagnosed women were on average ten years younger than the men;
· there was a sharp peak in AIDS cases in younger women, 20 to 29 years old.

These data were deeply disturbing yet they did not elicit a particular concern about women and HIV at the international level nor did they challenge and change the dominant discourse on the epidemic and thus the responses3.

Now, ten years after the first woman was diagnosed, an estimated three and a half million women are infected, the vast majority through sexual transmission. For most women, the major risk factor for HIV infection is being married4,5,6. Each day a further three thousand women become infected and five hundred infected women die. Most infected women are between 15 and 35 years old.

Figure 1 : First 500 cases of AIDS, Mama Yemo Hospital, Kinshasa, Zaire, 1986