“I just heard of effective use of condoms, but I never knew how to use them.”
These are the words of Juliet Awour, a Kenyan woman featured in PAI’s new
documentary, Abstaining from Reality: U.S. Restrictions on HIV
Prevention. Neither Juliet nor her boyfriend knew how to use a condom, so
he took it off during sex. As a result, Juliet became pregnant and contracted
HIV the first time she had sex. Her story illuminates one of the gravest
problems with a U.S. HIV prevention strategy that teaches abstinence-only: What
do individuals know about HIV protection when they are no longer abstinent? In
Juliet’s case, not enough. The Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women and Youth
(PATHWAY) Act (H.R. 1713), reintroduced last week by Congresswoman Barbara
Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Chris Shays (R-CT), is a step towards helping
individuals like Juliet get the life-saving information and supplies they need.
Unless Congress acts now, there will be many more Juliets.
Juliet’s story is just one example of how a lack of education can do
tremendous harm. Programs that fail to educate young people—many of whom are
married—about every method that can help protect them from HIV infection,
including abstinence and condom use, are nothing short of irresponsible.
Promoting abstinence-only over more comprehensive education is clearly preferred
by the Bush administration. However, it is not an effective prevention strategy
for every person in every situation. Instead of empowering women and girls with
the information to protect themselves, these inadequate policies and programs
are placing many lives at risk.
The PATHWAY Act would make comprehensive prevention information more widely
available by eliminating the requirement in PEPFAR that one-third of all prevention funding to go toward
abstinence-until-marriage programs—a policy rooted in ideology rather than
reality. A recent Institute of
Medicine (IOM) report agrees, “…congressional budget allocations have
limited PEPFAR’s ability to tailor its activities to the local epidemic in each
country and to harmonize with each country’s national plan.” U.S. prevention
money would be better spent supporting comprehensive, evidence-based programs
that reach more people and their evolving needs.
PAI strongly urges Congress to pass the PATHWAY Act. While we wait, more
young women face insufficient knowledge about how to protect themselves from a
fate all too similar to Juliet’s.