Frequently asked questions
If you would like to learn more about Sophia, or have other specific questions you would like us to answer, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to reply to you shortly.
- Why is Sophia focusing on women?
- What policies does SOPHIA want to change?
- What are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and which ones apply most to women and HIV/AIDS?
- Should women who are HIV-positive have access to fertility treatment? What are the risks of a mother living with HIV transmitting it to her baby, and how can this be avoided?
- Why is it important to look at issues for HIV-positive women separately from HIV-positive men?
- Why are so many more women getting HIV now?
- Why are girls getting infected at a faster rate than boys of the same age?
- What can be done to combat the stigma that surrounds HIV and AIDS?
- What can I do to support all these issues?
1. Why is Sophia focusing on women?
16.5 million women are living with HIV and since 2002 this is rising in every region of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa 61% of adults with HIV are women. The percentage of women living with HIV in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe are slowly growing as HIV is transmitted to the female partners of men who are injecting drug users, have had unprotected sex or sex with other men. Infection rates among young women are especially high. UNAIDS has listed marriage as a risk factor for HIV infection in Africa and Asia. The unequal social and economic position of women and girls has fuelled this increase. In the UK the proportion of women who are diagnosed HIV positive is also rising, it was 40% in 2006. In the UK positive women are still sidelined in decision-making that concerns them.
2. What policies does SOPHIA want to change?
SOPHIA wants all women and girls, HIV positive and negative, to enjoy their full human rights. Our purpose document outlines three main areas for policy change:
- To support and lobby for global access to free antiretroviral treatment and prevention for all who need it.
- All governments, North and South, and all donors to provide funding without conditions to ensure freedom of access to full information and choice.
- All decision-makers to broaden their focus from reaction to the crisis to proactive sustained prevention of the spread of HIV worldwide.
3. What are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and which ones apply most to women and HIV/AIDS?
In the year 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a declaration outlining eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015.
- MDG 3 aims to promote gender equality and empower women
- MDG 4 aims to reduce child mortality
- MDG 5 aims to improve maternal health by reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75%
- MDG 6 focuses on combating HIV and /AIDS, malaria and other major diseases, has a target of halting, and also reversing, the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases
Of course all the MDGs affect women in relation to HIV and AIDS to some extent or other.
You can read more about the MDGs here.
4. Should women who are HIV-positive have access to fertility treatment? What are the risks of a mother living with HIV transmitting it to her baby, and how can this be avoided?
In the UK, all women are normally entitled to one round of fertility treatment from the NHS. If they are given the proper care, treatment and support, recent research has shown that - even with a normal vaginal delivery, women with HIV can have a 99.9% chance of having children who are HIV-free. This level of risk falls well within UK norms for inherited disease through childbirth. Internationally, many women with HIV have been sterilized by health staff without their permission or under forced circumstances so they feel robbed of their fertility and wish that they could still have children. Many other women with HIV have been made to feel that having children once they are HIV positive - and even having sex - is wrong. All this despite the huge medical advances which have been made in recent years.
5. Why is it important to look at issues for HIV-positive women separately from HIV-positive men?
Women are still the main carers and homemakers around the world so they often have little of the time needed for political meetings and it is assumed that “a woman’s place is in the home…” For HIV positive women the challenges are even greater - coping with their own illness, facing up to the prejudice of others around them, including other women. Yet the great majority of HIV positive women never thought they were at risk of becoming HIV positive, and those that did felt powerless to protect themselves from the virus. Women also find it harder to access treatment because they put their children and husbands first. Official figures show that more women than men attend public health treatment centres - but the data do not enquire what happens to those women and their treatment when they go home. Women are often feeling the need or are being put under pressure to share their treatment with children or with their patners. We have also seen that the medical establishment does not take into account the different ways that HIV and medication affects women and men's bodies.
6. Why are so many more women getting HIV now?
For years many women assumed they couldn't be at risk because they didn't fall into the classic stereotypes listed by public health messages and the media, such as sex workers, women with multiple sex partners, drug users and so on. They did not know that the ABC message of "abstain, be faithful, use condoms" was no protection, even if they had been faithfully married to the same man all their lives, if that man had been having unprotected sex with someone else. So many women are getting sick with HIV - and dying - now because they may have been infected 10 years or so ago through their husbands, without realising that they were also at risk.
7. Why are girls getting infected at a faster rate than boys of the same age?
Because older men prefer to have sex with teenage girls whose vaginal walls are vulnerable to tearing and infection. Lots of young women become infected because they are in vulnerable roles: domestic workers whose employers abuse them, needing good marks at school so they have sex with their male teachers. Some girls have sex with older boys or men to get help with their schoolwork or to get basic stationery or clothing, or for some access to other goods. Many girls - and married women - lack the necessary assertiveness skills to enable them to negotiate safer sex when they choose to have sex with a partner.
8. What can be done to combat the stigma that surrounds HIV and AIDS?
There are workplace initiatives in the Red Cross and Standard Chartered Bank on sex and relationships for the entire staff which have improved understanding of the issues and made staff less judgmental and more supportive of people with HIV. All government agencies and large global businesses should help staff to learn what the issues are in their own lives. Once people understand how this relates to them in their own relationships they become far less judgemental of others.
9. What can I do to support all these issues?
You can read more on the SOPHIA web site and follow our links to related sites. You can sign the Pledge and Call to Action on the World YWCA site. You can write to your MP to find out what his or her party is doing in the UK and globally to address these issues. You can join the SOPHIA network, helping us achieve our aims and to raise awareness with your own friends, family, colleagues or community. You can find out what is happening in your own community and volunteer to support your local HIV support group. You can raise or donate some funds for our work – or for your own community organisation’s work – or even better, for both!