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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 22, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Housewives are now at the highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea, a regional women's conference in Fiji was told.

Elizabeth Cox, an NGO worker now working with the PNG National AIDS Program, spoke about women’s reproductive rights in Papua New Guinea.

"Statistics indicate that the people now at the highest risk of contracting HIV are housewives," she said. "Women have no power to insist that their husbands use condoms, and while women are expected to be completely faithful to their husbands, men have the freedom to have many sexual partners or wives."

Cox was speaking at a panel discussion on women and reproductive rights, at the 3rd Pacific Regional Meeting on Violence against Women, which is being held at the Warwick Fiji resort.

She also told participants that the majority of patients at STD clinics were men, because women may be prevented from accessing treatment.

"Men stop their wives from coming to the clinic because then people will know that the men are themselves infected. They don’t want to be shamed, so they stop their wives from getting medical treatment," said Cox.

Participants at the meeting will be discussing strategies to improve recognition of women’s reproductive rights over the next few days.

Women who live in violent relationships have very little control over their reproductive and sexual health, in particular their choices about contraception, Fiji Women’s Crisis Center Coordinator Shamima Ali told the meeting.

Ali also spoke about how social expectations of childbearing can impinge on women’s reproductive rights. "A woman who has not yet had a son is under a lot of pressure to keep having more children," she said.

Women in violent relationships are also less able to negotiate safer-sex measures, in particular the use of condoms, she said.

"A woman is often reluctant to suggest that her husband uses a condom when they have sex, because it implies that either she or her husband is being unfaithful. Women in violent relationships are often beaten if they suggest to their partners that they want to use a condom during sex," said Ali.

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