Sunday, August 12, 2007

Women Empowerment, Cornerstone of HIV Prevention

Women Empowerment, Cornerstone
of HIV Prevention

Anirudha Alam

There are some forms of risky behavior that directly makes women vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in the developing countries like Bangladesh. It should be cornerstone of life to get rid of risky behavior through improving living standard any how. For the greater involvement of vulnerable women in every aspect of curbing epidemic, they have to be able to respond to the epidemic in a meaningful manner.

In a society, if women and girls are not empowered to develop life skills they are severely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Gender discrimination, sexual violence, women trafficking, dowry, early marriage and low levels of reproductive health literacy are considered as key factors in the spread of STIs.

A large proportion of women is infected with HIV from regular partners who were infected during paid sex. For instance, in Mumbai and Pune (in Maharashtra), 54% and 49% of sex workers, respectively, had been found to be HIV-infected in 2005. Across sub-Saharan Africa, women are more likely than men to be infected with HIV. The unfortunate fact is that vulnerability among women is mounting all over the world. Only women empowerment can contain this vulnerability.

Profound advocacy can be an important and familiar way of breaking down barriers for undermining gender discrimination and stigma. The spread of HIV/AIDS is being fueled among the women of developing countries through such risky factors as exorbitant prevalence of HIV in the neighboring countries, increased population movement both internal & external, existence of commercial sex with multiple clients, high prevalence of STIs among the commercial sex workers, unsafe sex practice through bridging population, sexual bondage, the trend of rise of HIV among injecting drug users, unprotected pre-marital sex as well as dire poverty. On the other hand, sustainable family bondage as well as integrated praxis of religious and social values make these countries less vulnerable comparatively.

According to AIDS researcher Mohammad Khairul Alam, “Women empowerment is the first step to stamp out gender discrimination and stigmatization. If we promote gender equality poverty will be reduced significantly. It is recognized that poverty helps to trigger vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. So women empowerment through development initiatives should be ensured to keep HIV/AIDS in bay. In this aspect, such promotional activities as organizing gender sensitization workshop, seminar, symposium, open discussion, popular theatre, door to door work, advocacy session and so on may play important role bringing about effective social mobilization. Thus counting on local resource mobilization and capitalizing on collective action, women empowerment program may be led by integrated approach more efficiently to undermine vulnerabilities to HIV/AIDS.”

It is estimated that more than 14,000 people are getting infected with HIV all over the world every day. Among of them, 2000 are children under 15 years mostly getting infection of HIV through mother to child transmission. So mother to child transmission (MTCT) is considered as an important issue in spreading HIV/AIDS. There is scientific evidence of likely presence of HIV virus in breast milk. Therefore gender issues comprising improved services as to maternal & child care should be ensured through the HIV/AIDS prevention program.

As per the findings of National Assessment of Situation and Responses to Opioid/Opiate use in Bangladesh (NASROB) conducted in 2001, 14% of the female heroin smokers started heroin use below 18 years of age and 38% by 18 year. 22% of the current female injectors started injecting drug by 19 years of age. BEES (Bangladesh Extension Education Services) found that 90% young girls (15-25 years) of Bangladesh are very much vulnerable to AIDS and STIs that they do not know how to take care of their reproductive and sexual health. They have no inclination or are not enough empowered to believe it necessary to seek advice on safe reproductive health as well.

Reproductive health is still a taboo in Bangladesh, particularly with adolescent girls. With very limited access to health care facilities, knowledge and education, they have no understanding about the ways of protecting themselves. But women should be empowered through developing life skills that they can have more control over their reproductive and sexual health. Consequently HIV/AIDS prevention program will sustain comprehensively attaining high watermark of success in reducing vulnerabilities to STIs.

Anirudha Alam
Deputy Director
(Information & Development Communication)
BEES (Bangladesh Extension Education Services)
183, Lane 2, Eastern Road, New DOHS
Mohakhali, Dhaka 1206

Phone: +8801718342876, +88029889732, +88029889733 (office), +88028050514 (res.)

Ref: UNDP, UNESCO, World Bank

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