AIDS at 30: A Woman's Story

Today, the most likely victims of HIV/AIDS are young women.

In countries most devastated by AIDS, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, three young women are infected for every man that is infected. More than 60 percent of those infected with HIV around the world are women, and HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age -- women ages 15 to 49.

Last week, UNICEF released another devastating statistic: 72 percent of all young people living with HIV/AIDS in southern Africa are girls between the ages of 15 and 24.

HIV/AIDS takes such a devastating toll on women because it thrives on inequity, violence, poverty and stigma.

Unfortunately, some of the world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS this week are not focused on how we can best address the issues that globally drive the epidemic among women. Rather, they are trying to remove language dealing with a woman's sexual and reproductive health from the meeting's declaration. This is another glaring example of how women are being disregarded.

At a time when we should be coming together to find strategies that prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, we are instead back to debating a woman's basic human rights, including the right to make her how own reproductive health decisions.

Many women infected with HIV aren't engaged in risky behaviors and many more do not realize how some behaviors may put them at risk. Women are vulnerable because of cultural norms that keep them from having control of their own sexual and reproductive health including the right to choose their partner(s), governments that fail to establish and/or enforce laws that protect women and girls, poverty, and lack of access to educational and financial opportunities.

To protect and treat women and young girls, we need to uphold their basic rights, expand their educational and financial opportunities, and increase their access to knowledge and practical tools to prevent infection.

We must also promote strategies that address the root causes of women's vulnerabilities: inequity, violence, poverty and stigma.

When HIV/AIDS was first identified, it took the courageous and bold work of many in the gay community to increase understanding and muster resources to battle its impact. Thirty years later, it is time we bring that same spirit and determination to save the health and lives of millions of women and girls.

Nancy Mahon leads The MAC AIDS Fund (MAF), the largest corporate non-pharmaceutical giver to HIV/AIDS programs. MAF has raised $218 million exclusively through the sale of MAC's VIVA GLAM Lipstick and Lipgloss, donating 100 percent of the sale price to fight HIV/AIDS.

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