TODAY -

Ignorance, gender inequity bars fight against HIV

By Thingnam Anjulika Samom *

World AIDS Day :: December 1



It is with dreams of happiness and promises to love and cherish each other that men and women enter into the vows of marriage. For 36-year old Ibemma (not real name) in Imphal East district it took just five-and-half months of marriage to shatter those dreams and vows.

Ibemma had been married for that short time when her husband died due to liver failure. While going through his possessions after the death, she came across documents which showed that her husband had been living with HIV/AIDS for a long time and was taking anti-retroviral (ART) medications.

This came as a complete shock to her as she and her husband had taken the HIV test before getting married. He had given her the documents which showed that she tested negative while concealing his own. After marriage, he had continued to hide his status from her. Nor did he practice safe sexual relations with her or asked her to take the HIV test again.

The knowledge prompted her to take the test herself and she found that she is now living with HIV. Ibemma is in a dilemma presently. Though she continues to live at her husband's house, she is facing subtle sexual advances from her husband's brother. She does not want to go back to her own house either because she feels that she will become a burden to her brothers, sister-in-laws and her parents as a "returnee" - a married woman who has returned to live at her parental house, something which our society usually looks down upon.

Ibemma is still fearful of taking positive action - such as legal or police action against her brother-in-law for sexual harassment or against her husband's family for helping in concealing her husband's status from her, thereby exposing her to HIV.

According to Salam Udita, General Secretary of the Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+) there are many women like Ibemma who have been victimized by the twin onslaughts of lack of awareness as well as inherent societal and dominant male values which give little or no negotiating powers to a woman with regards to her own rights including sexual health and reproductive rights.

"On one hand it seems that the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS especially the women is reducing; but if we look deeper it still happen inside the family. Awareness on HIV/AIDS is rising but it still hasn't seeped down to all levels of the society," she says.

Manipur has one of the highest concentrations of HIV/AIDS in India, contributing nearly 8% of the country's total HIV positive cases. According to the epidemiological report (September 1986 to January 2011) provided by the Manipur State Aids Control Society women account for nearly one-fourth of the total HIV positive cases in the state. Out of the total 38016 persons living with HIV in Manipur, as many as 10109 are women.

Unless the issues of gender equity and violence against women are not addressed alongwith the issue of HIV/AIDS, these figures will spiral upwards instead of "Getting to Zero" on which theme World AIDS Day is going to be observed all over the world, including Manipur.




* Thingnam Anjulika Samom wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
Thingnam Anjulika Samom is a freelance journalist based in Imphal, writing on issues of gender, conflict and human rights with national and international publications. This article was webcasted on December 01, 2011.


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