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Wednesday, August 27 2003

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Vol 16 No.171

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  • Women must be involved in HIV

    Women must be involved in HIV/AIDS campaign

     VICTORIA IBANGA

    AS the AIDS epidem unfolds, women constitute increasing proportions of the afflicted. According to UNDP HIV/AIDS statistical fact sheet, 70 per cent of all adults living with HIV/AIDS are in Africa. Africa has a total number of 28.5 million people with HIV/AIDS showing an increase of 30 per cent over five years.

    With regards to women and HIV/AIDS, women make up 58 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to 29.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

    Various reasons have been advanced by exports why HIV/AIDS has affected more women then men. Some of the reasons are; lack of care of women in developing countries, gender discrimination, the fact that women are more exposed in a sexual relation than men, and, of course, poverty.

    These were the factors that motivated Africa leadership Forum (ALF) to organise a regional conference recently in Abuja on the them: "Leadership challenges for African women in the HIV/AIDS campaign." The conference took place between June 23 and 25, 2003, at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.

    The objectives of the conference, according to Mr. Ayodele Aderinwale, Executive Director of ALF, were to develop strategies to strengthen women’s capabilities on promoting effective gender sensitive responses to HIV/AIDS, review existing regional and national mechanisms on HIV/AIDS with regard to the gender balance and content, build a strong regional network of critical women organisations and individuals on HIV/AIDS, among others.

    During the first session of the conference, which was chaired by Dr. Timiebi Koripamo - Agary, Gender Consultant and Director , Federal Agency for Natural Medicine, Dr. Sonia Spencer, Director, Society for Women Against AIDS in Africa - Sierra Leone (SWAAL) chapter, painted a vivid picture of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls in Africa.

    According to Dr Spencer strong but supportive national policies based on human rights, poverty reduction strategies are needed to ensure appropriate responses at all levels of society. She also suggested that developing programmes aimed at helping women survive longer should not be just an exercise in humanitarian relief but a sound development strategy.

    Also, Mrs Yetunde Teriba of Gender Directorate, commissioner of the Africa union, provided a road map to strategic mainstreaming of women’s leadership roles in the campaign against HIV/AIDS. Ms Eve Thompson, Executive Director, United Nations University International Leadership Academy. Jordan, chaired this session.

    Other presentations were made by Ms Jane Ogot, coordinator, Kenyan’s political caucus, Dr. Omokhudu Idogho, Team leader, HIV/AIDS, Action AID, Ms Anne Githuku, HIV and Development Programme South Africa, Ms Yasmin Sheriff, Femmes Africa Solidarite, Ms Viola Morgan, Gender Programme, UNDP, New York, among others.

    The participants, after exhaustic deliberation noted that:

    •That HIV/AIDS has become a major threat to the socio-economic development, peace and stability in Africa. HIV/AIDS is the most potent and deadly enemy of Africa and in the AIDS pandemic, there are no winners as the future of Africa is being mortgaged on daily basis.

    •African women are not adequately empower to protect themselves from the scourge of HIV/AIDS neither have they sufficient space to interface and influence the policy framework and mechanisms being deployed to combat the pandemic.

    •The imperative of women empowerment in Africa is further heightened by the fact that national responses design strategies that do not address the underlying cultural and social practices that make women and men vulnerable to HIV infection. Also, absence of appropriate policy frameworks and legal systems have further exacerbated women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and even where such frameworks and systems exist implementation is often ineffective.

    •The influence of Africa’s cultural environment and the patriarchal nature of our social interaction and norms as well as the physiological make up of women has created adequate room for women’s vulnerability and the feminisation of HIV/AIDS in Africa. It was further noted that the pattern and nature of the infection and nature of the infection among women and girls is largely fuelled by the factors of gender inequality and poverty.

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