TORONTO - August 14 - Girls educated to secondary and tertiary levels are more likely to wait before having sex, are much more likely to use condoms when they do have sex, and are therefore at much less risk of contracting HIV, according to a new report out today.
One of the latest trends in the development of Aids in Africa is its increasing feminisation. In Africa, 6.3 million young people aged 15-24 are living with HIV and Aids, and 74% of those are young women and girls.
In a systematic review of over 600 pieces of research on girls’ education, sexual behaviour and HIV, ActionAid has shown that secondary education provides African girls with the power to make sexual choices that prevent HIV infection.
The research shows that before 1995, educated girls were more vulnerable to Aids. Post 1995, as sex education improved and a greater understanding of HIV prevention developed, more educated girls became less likely to contract HIV.
Report author, Tania Boler said: “Young women receiving higher levels of education are likely to wait longer before having sex for the first time, and are less likely to be coerced into sex. Strikingly, girls with more education are far more likely to use condoms and they are less likely to contract HIV.”
The report’s findings challenge the increasingly vocal lobby which claims it is inappropriate to promote condoms widely in the fight against HIV.
“This report demonstrates the value of promoting condoms to a broad population including young people, and not only to high risk groups such as sex workers,” said Tania Boler.
ActionAid finds that education gives girls power, reduces vulnerability and helps them make more independent, confident choices about their sexual behaviour.
The report shows that:
- Schools and teachers are the most trusted source for young people to learn about HIV, and that school attendance ensures greater understanding of prevention messages. It also strengthens girls’ control, confidence and negotiating abilities to decide if to have sex, and when they do, whether to use a condom.
- Peer group solidarity within school strengthens girls’ social networks and creates more responsible attitudes to sexual behaviour, safer sex and HIV.
- Conversely, girls who drop out of school are more likely to enter into adult sexual networks, where older partners with more experience and power dictate the “rules” of sexual engagement.
- Poverty and vulnerability to HIV are closely linked. More educated women have better economic and social prospects and consequently have more choices.
Despite the role of education in protecting girls from HIV infection, 110 million children worldwide do not receive an education. In Africa, 22 million girls have never been to primary school. Children still have to pay to go to primary school in 92 countries.
ActionAid recommends the abolition of school user fees in developing countries to achieve maximum access to education, broadening the curriculum to include sex education, encouraging teenage mothers back into education and that condoms should be more widely available for young people.
Key statistics from the report
- Up to the age of 16, girls have a less than 5% chance of contracting HIV. Between 16 and 21 years, as they become increasingly sexually active, this rises to 20%, or one in five (South African study, but typical for the region).
- Girls who complete primary education are more than twice as likely to use condoms. Girls who complete secondary education are between four and seven times more likely to use condoms. Girls who go onto further and higher education are seven times more likely to use condoms.
- Girls who complete secondary school are up to five times less likely to contract HIV than girls with no education.
A panel of high profile campaigners and activists discuss the feminisation of HIV, and strategies to prevent the spread of the disease amongst young women.
Speakers: Rwanda’s First Lady, Jeannette Kagame; Canadian Minister for International Cooperation, Josée Verner; President, Realising Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson; Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF, Rima Salah; President of the International Centre for Research on Women, Dr Geeta Rao Gupta; Youth officer, Dignitas International, Malawi and ActionAid partner, Andrina Simengwa; and ActionAid’s head of Africa programmes and education specialist, Charles Abani.
Mary Robinson said: "Education is a cornerstone of development, but it is also hugely important in the fight against HIV and Aids, particularly in empowering young women to make the choices that will affect their entire lives. As such, governments across the world must make access to good quality, free education an absolute priority."