In China, HIV-positive rural or ethnic minority women often are unaware of their rights under the law, a study backed by the United Nations has found.
The root cause is illiteracy, says researcher Bu Wei, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"They don't know how to protect themselves with laws and what rights they are entitled to," Bu says.
In a population of 1.3 billion, China has an estimated 740,000 people with HIV. The proportion of women in China's HIV-positive population rose from one sixth in the 1990s to one third in 2007. In 2004 women represented 55% of those who contracted the disease through sexual transmission, up from 44% in 2001.
Bu's study consists of interviews with 857 individuals, 80% of whom were women. It was conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and backed by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the U.N. Development Fund for Women.
The study recommends short-term strategies to empower women, such as providing literacy education and information about HIV. It also recommends broader economic responses, such as assisting women in applying for microfinancing.