TODAY -

A dangerous liaison: HIV and the Gender Gap
- Part 2 -

Naorem Jiten *

The congruence between indicators of women's poor status and their vulnerability to HIV demonstrate close link between patriarchy and HIV in our State.

The lack of decision-making is reflected in the increasingly high rates of infection among what are traditionally considered low risk populating groups. The vulnerability of women is evident in the high rates of unwanted pregnancies and high prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDS).

Women are thrown out of their Homes or deserted by their husbands and are forced into situations where they are sexually exploited. Some Research indicate that the impact of HIV is more severely felt by the women in the family.

Positive and affected women end up fending for the family, repaying debts, and meeting hospital costs of the spouse. A study of their clients by Lawyers Collective, an NGO in Mumbai, in India, found that out of the 67 positive women respondents, at least 60 per cent were economically dependent and unemployed and 56 per cent are widows.

Some studies also indicate that most HIV-positive women became aware of their status only after their husbands are diagnosed to be HIV- positive or even as late as the death of their husbands. Such female-headed households are unable to afford even basic medicines to treat opportunistic infections. Here, a woman experiences dual stigmatisation - as a widow and especially a widow of a positive man.

Discriminatory access to property rights, shelters and care facilities are some issues with which single and widowed women are confronted. If the child is also diagnosed as HIV positive (a likelihood, given the increase in mother-to-child transmission), the burden on the mother increases.

Over the last two decades, responses to issues related to gender and HIV have been intensified to address the problem multi-sectorally and to take on more issues as the epidemic continues to spread.

Issues such as mother-to-child-transmission, access to treatment, access to more information and legal rights have been taken up at various levels by the Governments (particularly in Manipur by the Manipur AIDS Control Society) Civil social organisations and international bodies. Where gender is the underlying issue inevitably addressed by most of these interventions, a specific analysis of gendered-centered responses is necessary.

The inequalities in our societies are manifest in the field of gender relations. Policies and practices designed by or enforced by men curtail female access to education and information, healthcare, decent work, proper nutrition and security.

Though our State is making progress in promoting women's access to social services and involvement in decision-making, there is still strong social resistance to such changes both within Governments and major social institutions such as religious groups and business.

One area in which limited progress has been made is the violence against women. From trafficking in young women to domestic violence, women are regularly sexually intimidated and sexually abused. Male authority over women sexuality is socially accepted.

Therefore, the prevention, care and support needs of men and women are different, not just because of their physiology but more importantly in the context of gender roles and relations.

It is well accepted now that a multi-sectorial response is the need of the hour. This, in turn, demands that policies and programmes comprehensively address issues that foster gender inequality and vulnerability. Coercive programmes and policies not only violate individual rights but invariably do not elicit the desired results.

There is need to provide greater access for women and girls to productive resources such as education employment, legal assistance, dispel the culture of silence and shame that surrounds sexuality, and protect girls and boys from adverse effects of gender stereotyping.

At present, much of the analysis and description of HIV and Women is couched in the language of "vulnerability", which is not an operationally useful concept in the reality of women's lives have to be changed. Focusing on those issues that disempowered women run the risk of diverting attention away from those areas of women's lives where they are capable of ordering the differently.

As long as gender inequality exists, women's rights and opportunities to resist the infection, to assert their reproductive choice, to demand for safer sex and to support their families will be threatened and the epidemic will grow in scope and impact.

A range of policy-makers and service providers need to take up strategies gender interests and power dynamics to seek effective solution.

It has also argued that if the conditions of women's lives are to be changed in ways that will make a fundamental difference to the global experience of HIV/AIDS, it will be desirable to learn from policy areas where outcomes are clearly beneficial to apply these to the global response to HIV.

Concluded....




* Naorem Jiten wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on September 30, 2008.

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