HIV/AIDS is one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges. In 2019 it was estimated that there are 5.8 million people living with this disease in Asia and the Pacific. In Cambodia, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is amongst the highest in this part of the world.
Cambodia’s HIV/AIDS epidemic is spread primarily through heterosexual transmission, largely through people who work in the sex trade. With the highest infection rates stemming from people in prostitution, hostesses and beer girls. Migrant populations are also at high risk and often carry the infection without knowing.
Although the prevention and control efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia and its partners have helped to reduce the spread of HIV. The disease remains one of the biggest health risks in the country.
In 2018, it was estimated that 73,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia. Despite the progress made to slow the infection rate, there is growing concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on the efforts made in countries such as Cambodia in preventing the spread of infection.
Many people living with the disease or those who are at risk of infection do not have the education on prevention or access to treatment and care. In some rural areas of Cambodia, how the infection is spread is even unknown in the community.
It’s shocking to learn that globally the disease is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Women born in Cambodia, where gender inequality is part of the social construct, are much more vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS.
The economic state of Cambodia leaves impoverished young women with a bleak future.
Girls born into poor rural communities are not seen as important to educate. This means they are often sold into brothels by relatives, forced into marriages with unsuitable men or are trafficked for compelled labour and sex work. They are often forced to migrate to bigger towns and cities. Studies show that migrant women are at a heightened risk of sexual violence, including rape, and being forced to have sex without condoms.
With the lack of knowledge and education about sexual and reproductive health, these young girls are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. Many work illegally meaning they do not have access to testing and treatment.
We must fight for the right for these girls to receive an education. Without it, they have little hope of building a brighter future for themselves. With education comes empowerment. We want to empower young women so they can start to fight back against the gender inequality they face. Our mission is that through education, young girls realise their worth and can become self-sufficient. Therefore their only option isn't to end up working in the sex trade where they are at serious risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
At Women Going Beyond, we focus our efforts on changing the mindset of those living in rural communities, as here it is estimated that 50% of girls are illiterate. Due to the desperately poor conditions many families live in, it is often the girl in the family that is sold or forced to migrate. We want to provide these girls with an alternative. If they can develop employment skills they can escape the cycle of violence and injustice that surrounds them.