Culture of silence puts Asian women at risk of AIDS
BANGKOK: -- HIV is hitting married, monogomous women in Southeast Asia because their cultures often prevent them from asking about their husband's infidelities, a senior United Nations official said on Money.
"In Asia, you have an enormous number of women who are getting infected having no risk factors themselves," said Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
"As far as they are concerned, they are in monogamous relationships."
The key issue is Southeast Asia, she told Reuters in an interview, was that it is often culturally acceptable for men to have multiple partners, but unacceptable for women to ask about it, leaving them ignorant of the risks.
"This culture of silence that prevails in Asia -- good women don't ask about sex, they don't seek to know about sex, they don't ask their husbands or partners about their sexual activities -- puts women at great risk," Cravero said.
While men make up the majority of those with HIV in the Asia-Pacific region, infection rates among women are catching up.
In Southeast Asia, 30 percent of infected adults are now women, up from 20 percent just a few years ago,
"Thirty percent is a lot, but the most important factor is it has gone up considerably in the last three to four years," Cravero said.
In Cambodia, 40 percent of women contract HIV from their husbands or partners, while in Thailand that figure is forecast to rise to 30 percent by next year.
UNAIDS, which launched a regional coalition on women and AIDS on Monday for the Mekong region -- China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- is calling on governments to come up with measures to help women.
It wants them to reduce violence against women, promote education for girls, provide equal opportunity for health care and access to new preventative options and to protect women's property rights.
Cravero warned Thailand, host of the International AIDS Conference in July, not to be complacent about its success in fight against AIDS in the mid-90s.
"The message to Thailand is it has to remain vigilant," she said. "Even though overall prevalence in infection is dropping just a tiny bit, increases in key groups are going up, and that's a bad sign."