Vulnerability and opportunity: adolescents and HIV / AIDS in the developing world. Findings from the Women and AIDS Research Program.
People aged 10-19 years currently comprise 20% of the world's population. Recent data indicate that up to 60% of all new HIV infections are among 15-24 year olds, with females outnumbering males by 2 to 1. Social, cultural, and economic forces exist which result in gender differences in sexual experiences and expectations, as well as the ability to adopt HIV/STD preventive behaviors. This paper explains how the power imbalance characteristic of gender relations among adults has many of its roots in childhood and adolescence. The following findings are presented: sexual initiation for many girls occurs before menarche, economic gain and sexual coercion underlie many young women's sexual experiences, the social expectation of virginity does not necessarily protect young women from STDs and HIV/AIDS, gender differences in socialization contribute to HIV/STD vulnerability, the social costs of HIV prevention may be too high to motivate behavior change, adolescents need and desire communication with trusted adults, a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods works best for collecting data on sex behavior from young women, and enlisting the participation of young people enhances research and program outcomes. These findings are based upon data gathered as part of the first phase of the Women and AIDS Research Program conducted by the International Center for Research on Women. A comprehensive set of policy and program recommendations are presented.