The impact of HIV/AIDS on women in India is particularly harsh. India’s patriarchal society puts women at a disadvantage economically, culturally and socially, denying them access to adequate treatment and branding them carriers of the disease.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is inextricably linked to the social and cultural values and economic relationships between men and women and within communities. While social inequalities facilitate its spread in the country, the virus in turn reflects and reinforces these inequalities. In addition, there is an absence of choice at the individual and systemic levels, whether it is the choice to use a condom or even to have sex.
The problem is compounded by the fact that for most Indian women, sexual intercourse is not a question of choice but rather one of survival and duty. A woman’s fertility and relationship to her husband are often the source of her social identity.
As per NACO, an estimated number of 1.6 million women (between the ages of 15-49 years) are living with HIV/AIDS from the end of 2005; hence 1 out of 3 HIV infections are amongst women.
Given the spurt in HIV cases amongst women, experts have shifted from looking at the HIV/AIDS epidemic solely as a health issue to focusing on other factors that increase vulnerability to infection. For women, low economic and social status, abuse and violence, as well as limited legal and social protection increase their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.