UNITED NATIONS, June 7 (AP)-Trafficking in women and the devastating impact of AIDS on women and girls have become the hottest new challenges for 180 nations trying to accelerate an international agenda to achieve women's equality.

Women's rights activists spoke about the two problems at a U.N. meeting this week aimed at reviewing progress since the 1995 Beijing women's conference and producing a strong final document that pushes things forward.

The women at the conference said a key problem in negotiating the final document is linking these two global scourges.

``The issue we are dealing with right now is whether or not these governments are going to recognize that both the epidemic and trafficking are driven by men's demands for sex,'' said Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition.

``If we're going to deal with that issue we have to deal with both ends of the equation, namely we have to recommit ourselves as we did in Beijing to recognizing women's sexual rights and men's responsible sexual behavior,'' she said.

The new challenges posed by trafficking and AIDS got some high-level visibility at Monday's opening sessions.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan called trafficking ``a worldwide plague'' and said he will ask world leaders at the Millennium Summit in September to launch an international campaign to reverse the spread of AIDS, which is killing tens of thousands of young mothers, especially in southern Africa.

First lady Hillary Clinton declared that ``the face of AIDS today is increasingly female,'' creating a generation of AIDS orphans. And she said it was time to speak out ``on behalf of the one million trafficking victims who, every year, are being bought and sold into modern slavery.''

U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said during a forum Tuesday that the United States would be pushing at the Group of Eight economic summit in Okinawa, Japan, in July for greater international assistance to combat AIDS.

Both AIDS and trafficking were mentioned at Beijing, but not prominently.

``In 1995, we knew that the HIV epidemic was progressing, but we tended to see it largely as an issue of homosexuality and gay people,'' Germain said, ``and while women had recognized the problem of trafficking for a long time, it didn't really figure on the Beijing screen.''

Theresa Loar, director of President Clinton's Interagency Council on Women, said the explosion in trafficking is largely the result of open borders and the economic situations that countries in transition have faced.

``The root cause of it is economic desperation of women and girls and their families that makes them very susceptible to the lure of traffickers,'' she said.

Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS, said gender inequality - including women's economic dependence on men - is a fundamental driving force of the AIDS epidemic.

``Slowing down the spread of HIV means important changes are needed in relationships between men and women,'' Piot said. ``Men have a crucial role to play in bringing about this kind of radical change.''

In the face of the HIV epidemic, Germain said, the conference needs to agree on specific actions to protect and promote women's sexual rights, which were recognized in the Beijing platform.

She said men are not acting responsibly in regards to sex, and that in Africa older men who have sexually transmitted diseases - including AIDS - go to young virgins for sex because they believe it will cure them.

In Africa, women infected with the HIV virus now outnumber men, she said, ``and that's not because women are promiscuous, and it's not because they're ignorant of the disease or what have you, it's because men have sex with any number of women - and they bring it back to their wives.''

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