Globally, girls and women are at greater risk for HIV than their male counterparts, due in large part to an array of gender inequalities that negatively impact their mental and physical well being. In Tanzania, we see this illustrated through the culturally and socially ingrained expectations of women and the roles that they’re relegated to, and the ways that they’re unable to negotiate for safer sex.
In Newala specifically, the research we conducted through the Vitu Newala project helped us to uncover some of the challenges that adolescent girls face – namely the inability to decide when they have sex, with whom they have sex, and whether any sort of protection is used in those sexual encounters. We found that girls are all too often faced with the choice between giving in to unwanted sex or being raped. Additionally, because of their poor economic situation, many young girls end up being forced or coerced into transactional sex or sex with much older men. So, you can see how these things would put them at a great risk for HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.
Despite their vulnerability to HIV, adolescent girls remain an underserved population. We’ve seen that there is a lot of attention being given through programmes and interventions to the most vulnerable children under the age of twelve and to women, but there isn’t as much being done for these girls in the middle– these twelve-to-seventeen year-old girls – who are, in fact, at a very high risk of getting HIV.