Source:Swazi Observer THIS year has seen additional studies linking the empowerment of women with a reduction in HIV, and renewed programmes to give women the tools needed to prevent infections. For Swaziland, where movement continues toward achieving the constitutional guarantees of equal rights and responsibilities for women, the link is especially crucial.
Here is what we know:
ONE: An educated girl and woman is less likely to be infected with HIV. According to UNAIDS, illiterate women are four times more likely to believe there is no way to prevent HIV infection, while in Africa and Latin America, girls with higher levels of education tend to delay first sexual experience and are more likely to insist their partner use a condom. Educating girls has the added advantage of delaying their marriage and increasing earning ability, both of which reduce their vulnerability to HIV. Educated women are also more likely to access health services for themselves and their children, and to oppose negative cultural practices that can compromise their health.
TWO: A clinic nearby is a life saver. In many developing countries, women have very limited access to vital reproductive health services. A combination of biological and social factors means women are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which, if left untreated, increase their vulnerability to HIV. Women living in humanitarian crises are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and require services such as free, easily available condoms and safe blood for transfusions. Improving access to reproductive health services enables women to make informed choices in determining family size and preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission.
THREE: Ending violence against women and girls is essential. Throughout the world, one in three women has been beaten, experienced sexual violence or otherwise been abused in their lifetime, according to the UN. One in five will be a victim of rape or attempted rape. More often than not, the perpetrators are known to the women. Practices such as early marriage and human trafficking all increase women’s vulnerability to HIV. Other forms of violence, such as marital rape, also play a large part in increasing women’s HIV risk according to one report. A significant advance was achieved this year when Swaziland placed into law anti-trafficking measures, conforming to a UN treaty to which the country is signatory. According to UNAIDS, investment in HIV programming policies and addressing gender inequality and gender-based violence will help to achieve universal targets of HIV prevention, treatment and care.
FOUR: The economic empowerment of women boosts their health. In his book, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, Richard Robbins states that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, but receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own just one percent of the means of production. Poverty prevents poor women from controlling when sexual intercourse takes place and if a condom is used, and often forces women into risky “transactional sex” (sex for money or food) so they may feed themselves and their families. According to a study conducted last year on the subject, empowerment activities such as micro-finance give women access to and control over vital economic resources, ultimately enhancing their ability not only to mitigate the impact of HIV, but also to be less vulnerable to HIV.
FIVE: Men’s concern with women’s health is beneficial. Men cannot be bystanders when it comes to the health of their wives, daughters and female family members. They must get involved. More often than not, men control the dynamics of how, when and where sex happens. Encouraging more men to use condoms consistently has the knock-on effect of protecting their sexual partners from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
By looking after their own health, men can boost the health of their wives. Studies show that men are less likely than women to seek health services. In the case of men involved with multiple women, this means that sexually-transmitted infections remain untreated for long periods in men while their female partners grow increasingly at risk of infection. Teaching boys and young men to respect women, to be more involved in family activities and to avoid negative behaviour such as gender violence and alcohol abuse helps groom a generation of men who are less likely to take risks that endanger themselves and their families.
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