Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Women’s economic empowerment key to reduction in HIV

Women’s economic empowerment key to reduction in HIV

Daily Graphic, Tuesday, January 22, 2008. Page 11 (Women’s World)

Rebecca Quaicoe Duho

The inability of most women to negotiate for safe sex in relationships has been attributed to their dependence on their male counterparts for livelihood. Women in this kind of situation are subjected to sexual violence when they decide to postpone sexual intercourse for a moment for reasons of health, safety or tiredness.

This was made known at a two-day training workshop on effective reporting on women, journalists from Greater Accra, Eastern and Western regions organised by Women Media and Change (WOMEC) in Accra.

Because women who depend on their male counterparts are unable to provide for themselves they are also said not to be able to decide when their partners should use condoms and the situation is said to have left most women vulnerable to contracting the HIV in marriages or long-term relationships.

A doctor in Korle-Bu Fevers Unit, Dr Joseph Oliver-Commey, who gave an overview of the HIV situation in the country, said 63 per cent of the country’s HIV cases were women. Her said at the end of 2006, a total of 36,989 female adults were put on antiretroviral therapy as against a total of 26,833 male adults within the same year. He said women were commonly blamed for bringing the infection home, even when they had been faithful and their partners were openly promiscuous.

He projected that if adequate steps were not taken to halt the spread of the disease among the general populace, a total number of 214,910 would die form the disease by 2012, while 19,778 mothers would need Prevention of Mother Child Therapy (PMTCT). Dr Oliver-Commey said currently, the country was practising a new PMTCT strategy aimed at primary prevention of HIV infection, prevention of unintended pregnancies among HIV positive women, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and provision of treatment, care and support for HIV positive mothers, their infants and families.

According to Ms Gertrude Adzo Akpalu of UNAIDS, some studies have shown that “in Ghana married women were most three times more likely to be infected with the HIV virus than those who had never been married.” She said the UNAIDS core HIV prevention policy actions addressed the issue of women, human rights and gender to push for countries to mainstream gender in all HIV programmes, projects, and policies, and more female-specific effective strategies that countries could adapt, adopt and develop.

Ms Akpalu said what was currently being done was women’s empowerment and encouragement of female Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) to advocate and prompted positive living through non-governmental organisation such as the ARK Foundation, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) and community- and faith-based organisations. She called for more education for women on the Domestic Violence Law and other policies and bills as well as more advocacy on the promotion of effective HIV strategies such as PMTCT, Voluntary Counselling and Testing and safer sex practices.

She called on the media and the private sector to help in raising awareness on issues of women, HIV and AIDS. She also called for an increased advocacy and promotion of gender-sensitive HIV-policies and laws such as the DV law, equity in distribution of HIV services, women-specific effective HIV intervention, review of cultural norms and practices, such as trokosi; domestic violence, marital rape and widowhood rites, which make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV, and property rights.

She also called for increased research on women and HIV, promotion of gender equity and human (women’s) rights in the global and national responses to HIV and AIDS in addition to the provision of adequate funds to help women tackle the HIV and AIDS crisis in the country. She also called on the Women’s Caucus in parliament to lobby governments, organisations, donor, communities and individuals to make women’s rights, HIV and reproductive health a reality. She further called for a strengthening of dynamic and formidable women’s groups to push the agenda of women, human rights tights reproductive health, HIV and AIDS forward.

The Executive Director of WOMEC, Mrs Charity Binka, said the time had come for women to stand up for their fellow women especially to reduce the level of stigmatisation against HIV positive people, especially women. She said female journalists when well trained, would serve as the right conduits to channels the message of stopping the stigma against HIV infected person, especially women.

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