What Will it Really Take to Turn the Tide for Women in Africa and HIV/AIDS?

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By Hannah Ondiek

HIV/AIDS is a major problem in Africa especially for women. As one of the objectives of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, themed “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Bottom up Approach”, HIV/AIDS is given priority as one of the ten focus themes to be addressed.

There has been a considerable amount of work on the HIV/AIDS targets but we still need to see more progress especially in addressing issues like poverty, gender inequality and violence against women which directly and indirectly help in progressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic and increase women’s vulnerability to the pandemic. Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of HIV according to a joint report by UNAIDS/UNFPA/UNIFEM ‘Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis’ and it needs to stop.

Gender and HIV/AIDS

The USAID report on HIV/AIDS Health Profile Sub – Saharan Africa gives a detailed report on the current situation and notes that there is a decline in new infections. This is no cause to celebrate since there is still a lot that can and should be done. For instance the UNAIDS facts include that every minute a young woman is infected with HIV. These figures are alarming since these are our sisters, daughters, teachers, friends, mothers who are part of this statistics and we cannot just ignore them.

According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) we need to have achieved universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all who need it by 2010 and have halted by 2015 and began to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. These targets have clearly not been met by the situation we see on the ground.

The UN Women report on Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012: In pursuit of Justice, stated that there are 33.3 million people globally living with HIV in 2009. Women were 53% of those in developing countries. 80% of all women living with HIV are in Sub – Saharan Africa.

The research by AWID not as simple as ABCD, on Christian fundamentalism and HIV/AIDS responses in Africa noted that in Sub-Saharan Africa, an average of 13 women are newly infected for every 10 men and young African women are up to 6 times more vulnerable to the infection than young men. The UNAIDS Global Report prevalence map gives also details on the pandemic.

Situation of HIV+ Women in Sub-Saharan Africa

Recently, there were reports of forced sterilization of HIV positive women in Namibia and though they had already gone through the irreversible procedure, their voice in winning the case against the government has helped more women come out and speak concerning the same. In Kenya the National Gender and Equality Commission is championing the cause of women who have gone through forced sterilization. It is imperative to note that the issue is not only tied to Namibia, Kenya or specific African nations but is happening to women all across Africa. Though we do not have the real statistics of the situation on the ground we are pleased that the situation was brought to light and advocates can now fight for the rights of women living with HIV whose rights are being violated in this particular case. The major question that lingers and needs addressing is how many more women are going through the same discrimination in other parts of Africa who cannot seek help or speak out? 

Meetings, Reports and Resolutions and a Call To Action!

The report on Turning the Tide for Women, Children and Youth at the 19th International AIDS Conference 22nd – 27th July 2012 noted that the HIV/AIDS burden rests heavily on women and they cannot continue to be ignored three decades into the epidemic.  The UN Resolution on Women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS  also affirms the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as key to ending and reversing the pandemic. The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Angola to the United Nations statement at the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women reiterated the need to act on AIDS especially from a gender perspective. The main point is the reduction of Gender Based Violence and new HIV infection among women particularly young women and girls by 50% by 2015. Another main point was on the reduction of HIV related stigma and cost-effective and gender responsive investments in HIV/AIDS. These are solutions that will help in reducing the spread of the pandemic.

The Harare call to Action on 24th – 25th May 2012 gave a Call to action to different stakeholders in HIV/AIDS including the Civil Society, Women Cultural and Traditional Leaders, Women living with HIV, Parliamentarians, the African Union Commission, and the GlobalPower Women Network Africa. One other important stakeholder is the Faith Based Organizations (FBO’s) which as we know have a major hold in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially women. Here women can find support and encouragement. We need to note that the work is not left only to those mentioned here but all of us have a role to play in this.

Valerie Amos, UN Under – Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator commenting on the Humanitarian Index Report 2011 stated “Donors can play a crucial role by demanding that aid agencies use a comprehensive gender analysis to inform programming. The findings and recommendation from the report deserve thoughtful consideration”. One of the Key Recommendations that I can highlight is the need to make sure gender is fully integrated into needs assessment, donor funding decisions, and programme design and implementation especially in dealing with HIV/AIDS. We also need to include a system of monitoring and evaluation that will help address the challenges and the way forward for HIV/AIDS in Africa from a gender perspective.

We need to educate women on matters affecting them and also speak out on issues like forced sterilization which is one of the worst forms of discrimination against HIV positive women. We should ensure that there is adequate funding to implement and achieve the targets in the MDG’s and in the outcome documents from the multiple meetings relating to HIV/AIDS in Africa especially for women and continue lobbying for the implementation of policies and agreements made to keep the different stakeholders accountable. We need to stop the lip service at meetings where stakeholders meet to meet again and again and not come up with gender responsive solutions.

It needs both a top-down and bottom-up approach since it involves the whole society. It is also needs a multi-sectoral and multi-level approach and You and me have a role to play!!

Hannah Ondiek, is a Communications Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

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