With more ability to pay, there is less emphasis on free or low cost health and education services and therefore, again, inequalities have tended sometimes to increase. Urban life also carries special risk for the young who don't necessarily have the support of their families, especially for the poor. Young people account for half the new cases of HIV infections and there is a disturbing rise in sexually transmitted diseases among young people in all of the Asian countries. And here it is particularly serious because governments are not facing the problem. They don't accept that AIDS infection is an issue that needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed publicly. And time and again, you hear that in our societies, there is no sexual activity outside of marriage, which is something a little bit hard to believe. That's sort of a feeling. These are issues that are very sensitive - that are not to be addressed publicly-- and therefore, the AIDS epidemic can be suddenly upon us an we haven't really begun to deal with it.
One of the most effective ways to attack poverty -is to empower women to take charge of their own lives. The first essential of empowerment is better health and better education. It should be available to all girls and women. High quality reproductive health is a priority. It can be done, even in low income countries and communities if the priorities are right, as some of the Indian states have demonstrated, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are examples. Of course, the states don't have nice defense budgets. That's also a serious problem in parts of South Asia.
Economic opportunity for the poor is also vital. I think some of the most successful programs come from Asia, like the Grameen Bank, in which micro-credit opportunities, investing in the poor directly and giving them access to credit, has shown absolutely tremendous results and is being now emulated in many parts of the world.
But the underlying issue in South Asia - and perhaps even in all Asia - is the attitude of men towards women. Women - especially poor women - in much of Asia today, suffer under a form of gender, which is not less real because it is unofficial. The law protects them, there is equality in the law, but it still exists because really minds and mindsets have not changed. Technically, they have the same rights as men. Practically in marriage and the family and the workplace, in economic life, in politics and in their daily lives, women are second best - and we know that. The roots of this pervasive discrimination are deep, but they have to be dug out and we can't allow them to hide behind culture and tradition, as is often said in my culture. And my culture always seems to be directed to somehow controlling women in some form or the other.
If Asian countries sincerely wish for sustainable development, they will dig them out; they must. An Asia divided between men and women is literally impossible in the 21st Century. In the UN, the many agreements that have been introduced at the international conferences that were held during the 1990's on environment, on population development, on human rights, on women, on social development have become a blueprint for social development in the 21st Century. What was interesting about the conferences, apart from the subject matter that they addressed, they were also part of the development strategy, all had social goals and gender issues at the heart of their goals and recommendations.
The International Conference on Population and Development, for example, in which I had the possibility to participate in 1994, for example, set twenty year goals for reproductive health and sexual health, maternal and infant mortality deduction, unsafe abortion as a public health issue, prevention of HIV AIDS, gender issues, education with the elimination of gender inequalities and geographical inequalities. If all these agreements are implemented in the 21st century, Asia has a good chance of development without crashes like that which occurred in 1997.