• Monday, October 5, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Women six times more at HIV risk

    hiv1Susan Anyangu-Amu

    NAIROBI: It’s been clear for some time that AIDS is hitting women harder than men. But it could be getting worse: in Kenya government figures show young women aged 15-24 are six times more likely to be HIV-positive than their male counterparts.

    Other figures suggest that at least 60 percent of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women.

    Some of the factors are familiar, such as lack of economic independence, and social factors that mean women are frequently unable to insist their sexual partners use condoms.

    “Our prevention strategies need to specifically address the unique situations they (women) find themselves in,” says Professor Alloys Orago of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council. “We need to focus on women and young girls who are out of school.”

    Pascaline Kang’ethe, national coordinator for rights to health and HIV/AIDS with the international anti-poverty group ActionAid says the focus should shift to helping women and girls learn to defend their rights.

    “Women and girls do not have equal access to information and education, job opportunities and resources — including time to secure health, legal and other services. This exclusion means they cannot engage with their community in influencing activities that can significantly affect their lives.”

    ActionAid is using a methodology known as STAR (societies tackling AIDS through rights). “In Bondo district we are working with women living with HIV and we have trained them in carrying out social audits. We want communities to organise into pressure groups – to support each other – become empowered with knowledge on rights so that they can demand action from the government.”

    In Garissa in the north-east, Kang’ethe says a circle of women successfully pushed for a generator to be installed in the operation theatre of the district hospital.

    Lawyer Njoki Ndung’u says HIV infection also needs to be fought in the legal arena. “A lot has been done in terms of medical intervention and behavioural change. It is time to go to the law to change the gender status and address these vulnerabilities from the root causes.”

    Kenya’s new constitution outlaws harmful practices that fuel the spread of HIV. Ndung’u proposes that HIV/AIDS advocacy groups assist women whose rights have been violated to demand redress. “As civil society organisations working with women living with HIV/AIDS, you can now launch class actions against the government on behalf of these women.”

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