Growing evidence shows that getting and keeping young people in school, particularly girls, dramatically lowers their vulnerability to HIV. By itself, merely attending primary school makes young people significantly less likely to contract HIV. When young people stay in school through the secondary level, education’s protective effect against HIV is even more pronounced. This is especially true for girls who, with each additional year of education, gain greater independence, are better equipped to make decisions affecting their sexual lives, and have higher income earning potential – all of which help them stay safe from HIV.

Higher education levels are also clearly correlated with delayed sexual debut, greater HIV awareness and knowledge about HIV testing sites, fewer sexual partners, higher rates of condom use, and greater communication about HIV prevention between partners – all factors that substantially lower HIV risk.

By providing young women with greater economic options and autonomy, education also affords them the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to make informed choices about how to delay marriage and childbearing; have healthier babies; avoid commercial sex and other risky behaviors; and gain awareness of their rights.

In sub-Saharan African and the Caribbean, young women account for 3 out of 4 of all 15-24 year olds living with HIV, and the number of young women living with HIV is rising in every region of the world. Despite some recent increases in overall school enrollment rates, and some encouraging progress toward gender parity in education in southern and eastern Africa,
gender disparities in education enrollment, retention, and completion remain high in many countries hardest hit by AIDS, mostly notably in South Asia and West Africa.

That’s why the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS has made education for girls a top priority. Given the importance of education as an HIV prevention strategy and the many barriers that young people, especially girls, face in getting and staying in school, this must become a true global priority. Education can protect girls from HIV Studies from around the globe show that HIV infection rates are at least twice as high among young people who do not finish primary school as those that do. 

In addition:

  • A review of 113 studies from five continents found that teaching about AIDS in schools was effective in reducing early sexual activity and high-risk behavior.
  • In a recent analysis of eight sub-Saharan African countries, women with eight or more years of schooling were up to 87% less likely to have sex before the age of 18 compared to women with no schooling.
  • Evidence from Zimbabwe shows that among 15-18 year old girls, those who are enrolled in school are more than five times less likely to have HIV than those who have dropped out.
  • Surveys in Haiti, Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia have shown a strong link between higher education and fewer sexual partners.
  • Recent household surveys (DHS) in 11 countries show that women with some schooling were nearly five times more likely than uneducated women to have used a condom the last time they had sex.

The latest from the GCWA