Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gender Awareness, Stepping Stone to HIV Prevention

Gender Awareness, Stepping Stone
to HIV Prevention

Anirudha Alam

The spread of HIV and STI is mounting in developing countries through gender inequality and taboos around sexuality. It results in discrimination and stigma associated with drastic poverty and marginalization. Leading to empowerment, happiness and well being, gender awareness can help to promote both rights to be free of violence and coercion around sexuality. Sexual rights, an inclusive framework, guide to have knowledge of the links between different sexuality issues thoroughly recognizing that campaign against sexual violence must continue.

The number of women living with HIV is mushrooming than the number of men through out the world. In 2004, the number of women (15+) living with HIV was 12.7 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the number was increased to 13.3 million in 2006. HIV epidemic is disproportionately affecting women of South Africa. Young women (15-24 years) are four times more likely to be infected by HIV than are young men in this region. Prevalence among young women was 17% compared with 4.4% among young men in 2005.

HIV/AIDS entrenches gender inequality, denial and as well as threats to basic human rights. The relationship between HIV, gender and sexuality may be intertwined as a vicious circle. Unfortunately this aftermath limits women’s access to reproductive health information, STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) prevention technologies and treatment. There is no doubt that gender inequality makes women experience poverty and vulnerable to STIs gravely.

According to the findings of BEES (Bangladesh Extension Education Services), 95% of the rural adolescent girls in Bangladesh are vulnerable to STIs and ill health due to gender discrimination, sexual violence and lack of knowledge regarding reproductive health. They do not know how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation found that adolescent girls are two times more vulnerable to HIV and STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) than the adolescent boys in urban areas of Bangladesh because of sexual harassment. In the name of so called gender equality, their reckless free mixing subculture is making them vulnerable significantly as well.

To curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, it is necessary to challenge the stigmatization and discrimination faced by women living with HIV/AIDS. Counting on collective action at all levels from community to national level, gender equality can strengthen the HIV and STI prevention through a coordinated action for establishing the right of safe sex. In 2005, half of the new HIV infections occurred due to unprotected sex in China. Moreover with HIV spreading successively from most-at-risk population to general population, the number of HIV infections among women is increasing fast.

In the developing countries, most of the women have very little or no knowledge about HIV transmission as well as risk before they are diagnosed HIV positive. Married women do not want to think that they may be at risk of infection. In Bangladesh, the women are induced by their family members to conceive. On the other hand, they feel under presser from healthcare workers to avoid conception. But in most cases, none of them provides necessary information clearly to help the vulnerable women conceive safely or to lessen risk of mother to child transmissions.

Involving women living with HIV, national social welfare organizations, community based organizations (CBOs), academies and policymakers, there may be a promising plan to develop advocacy strategies and extend counseling to women diagnosed in antenatal clinics. It will highlight the necessity to ameliorate the plight as for gendered response to the needs and desires of vulnerable women. Consequently it will be possible to build their life skills to enable them to work with field workers, researchers, monitors, evaluators, policymakers at all levels of program design and implementation, research, monitoring, evaluation and policymaking. Then it would be possible to keep HIV in bay effectively stamping out discrimination, stigmatization and sexual violence through gender awareness as a whole.

Anirudha Alam
Deputy Director
(Information & Development Communication)
BEES (Bangladesh Extension Education Services)
183, Lane 2, Eastern Road, New DOHS
Mohakhali, Dhaka 1206
Phone: 01718342876, 9889732, 9889733 (office), 8050514 (res.)

Ref: UNDP, UNESCO, World Bank

No comments: