The United Nations has marked International Women's Day by highlighting the suffering inflicted on women by the global AIDS epidemic. Secretary General Kofi Annan called for new strategies to battle the deadly virus.
Mr. Annan noted that, contrary to earlier understanding, it is becoming increasingly evident that women are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic.
Mr. Annan said, "In the world as a whole, at least half of those newly infected are women. Among people younger than 24, girls and young women now make up nearly two thirds of those living with HIV. If these rates of infection continue, women will soon become the majority of the global total of people infected."
Speaking to a Women's Day conference, Mr. Annan noted that what he called the traditional "ABC approach" - abstain, be faithful and use a condom - had been a failure in parts of the world where sexual violence is widespread.
He said even marriage has not proven effective in preventing the spread of AIDS among women.
Mr. Annan said," In many parts of the developing world, the majority of women are married by age 20, and they have higher rates of HIV than their unmarried, sexually active peers -- often because their husbands have several partners and bring the infection home."
The UN observance also featured Jordan's Queen Noor, who spoke of the growing AIDS danger in the Middle East. She said cultural and social norms in the region had kept infection rates low. But she said those same factors had left women in those societies at greater risk.
Queen Noor said," Due to the widespread stigma attached to the disease, many of those who carry the HIV virus would rather simply die than risk encouraging rejection or worse from family, friends and community. In a culture where tragically, women in particular can be at risk from own families, at any suggestion of sexual impropriety, the risks are magnified."
Queen Noor said for both cultural and physiological reasons, women are proving to be twice as susceptible to HIV infection as men.
The UN observance of International Women's Day took several other forms. The senior UN envoy to Afghanistan used the occasion to deplore recent violence against girls' schools. Special representative Jean Arnault noted two attacks on girls schools in the past few weeks, in a region where such institutions were banned under Taleban rule.
The UN labor agency issued a report this month saying that while women are entering the work force in record numbers, they face higher unemployment, lower wages and greater difficulty in winning promotion to senior level positions.
At the same time, Secretary General Annan announced he was promoting two women - one from France and one from Germany - to the rank of Assistant Secretary General.