What Puts Women at Risk?

First, some facts about women and HIV:

  • Between 2000 and 2008, the number of HIV diagnoses among women has been at or around, 25% of all HIV diagnoses in Ontario.1
  • 25% of women estimated to be living with HIV in Ontario are still undiagnosed.2

These numbers reveal that the rate of HIV is growing for women in this province. It is also an example of how inequality in society shapes the health of a certain population.

  • This growth of HIV is partly a result of the denial of women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Economics, societal attitudes, religion, culture and political decisions can increase or decrease women’s vulnerability to HIV.
  • With independence, empowerment and the skills needed to make informed decisions that affect their own lives, bodies and sexuality, women are in a stronger position to have safer sex.
  • Too often, women, female-identified individuals and trans folk are not fully able to protect themselves from HIV.

Women are expected to take the major role in unpaid labour such as care-giving. Women may also have less access to and influence over the use of income, services and resources. With so little support, many women become increasingly vulnerable to infection with HIV and to the impacts of AIDS as well as to violence.

This is especially true for women who are:

  • poor
  • young
  • use drugs
  • involved in sex work
  • have one or more disabilities
  • in same-sex relations or bisexual
  • of colour or an ethnic minority
  • living in or from certain geographic locations (for example, conflict and post-conflict areas, rural/urban, global north/south)

From your own work experience as a service provider, you know that women are unable to always negotiate safer sex, whether for themselves, or their male partners. Unprotected sex exposes participants to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

As well, women – especially young women – are biologically more susceptible to HIV infection than men. Delicate tissues in the vagina and concentrations of the virus in semen make it easier for infected males to transmit the disease to their female sexual partners.

It is more likely for an HIV-positive man to infect a woman through penetrative sex than the other way around.

Women are strong and resourceful. Your understanding and support can make a difference in reducing these risks.


More from Shared Health Exchange

1What Ontario Women Have to Say about HIV Prevention: Implications for Policy and Program Development, Lea Narciso – HIV/AIDS data prepared by Dr. RS Remis of the Ontario HIV Epidemiologic Monitoring Unit, Ontario Women’s Study, December 2010
2Estimates of HIV Prevalence and Incidence in Canada, 2008, Surveillance and Risk Assessment Division, Centre for Communicable Diseases and Infection Control, Public Health Agency of Canada, November 2009