Aidswatch with Bertha Shoko
FEMALE-focused prevention strategies are urgently needed in order to reduce HIV infections among young girls and women, says the Zimbabwe Country Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV/Aids in Southern Africa, Facing the Future
The study focused on nine sub-Saharan countries ‘severely affected’ by the HIV/Aids pandemic which are Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
Southern Africa remains the most affected region by the Aids epidemic in the world.
According to the UNAIDS, ‘there is no single explanation for why the epidemic is so rampant in Southern Africa but a combination of factors such as poverty and social instability that result in family disruption, the low status of women and ineffective leadership during critical periods in the spread of HIV.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men are infected with HIV, making 57 percent of people living with HIV/Aids, say the UN report.
There are on average 13 infected women for every 10 infected men-up from 12 for 10 in 2002, the report notes.
In Zimbabwe, young women in the 15-24 age group account for more than three quarters of HIV infections as factors such as poverty and gender imbalances work to increase their risk to infection.
“Poverty undermines the ability of young girls and women to protect and support themselves against the epidemic as most adopt strategies that expose them to the risk of HIV infection,” says the report.
“As the HIV/Aids crisis unfolds, it is becoming more obvious than before that this epidemic mirrors the conditions of global disparities and simultaneously flourishing poverty, conflict and inequality.
‘In recent years it has become evident that the face of Aids has changed and the world is gradually acknowledging that because of gender, women and girls are most severely affected.”
The UN secretary’s report focuses on six key issues which it says, if taken into account in the Aids fight, would change the direction of the epidemic.
The key interventions are ‘prevention of HIV among girls and young women, girls’ education, violence against women and girls, property and inheritance rights for women and girls, women and girls as caregivers and access to care and treatment for women and girls.
“A concerted effort is necessary to reduce the vastly higher rates of HIV infection among younger women and girls. These efforts should be focused on developing HIV/Aids prevention strategies that empower young women and girls to protect themselves,” says the report.
On girls education as an intervention, the report proposes that efforts need to be extended to reduce drop outs of school by girls to take are of sick relatives and parents.
“The epidemic affects school enrolment levels for girls as they drop out to take care of the sick and younger siblings or because they are unable to pay school fees as a result of parental death and poverty.
“We must monitor enrolment patterns in schools for girls and adopt strategies that will not only keep girls in school, but keep them safe while there and ensure they leave school with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves against HIV infection.”
There is also need to curb the levels of gender based violence for meaningful interventions, according to the UN report.
“With high prevalence of gender based violence increasing the risk of HIV infection, legislation to respond must be enacted and enforced.
“Men, including traditional and political leaders, must join with women and girls and become outspoken partners against such violence.”
The report also proposes that women and girls have unlimited access to care and treatment and that they be a shared responsibility between men and women in taking care of the sick in society and in the home.
“The health care system in Zimbabwe is under stress. Access to Aids-related care and treatment for women and girls is further hampered by their lower social and economic status and the gendered nature of stigma and discrimination,” observes the report.
“The health care system, including care and treatment interventions must be strengthened and made more accessible to women and girls.”
The burden of caring for the HIV infected and affected is currently disproportionately borne by women and girls with very limited external support, according to the report.
“Strengthening support for home-based care and promoting greater involvement of men in caring activities should be given priority.”
In his foreword to the UN report, the Minister of Youth Development and Gender and Employment creation, Ambrose Mutinhiri, emphasised the need to address gender disparities between men and women to ensure successful interventions.
“Gender is often seen as everyone’s problem, yet no one’s specific responsibility,” said Mutinhiri.
“We are all responsible for ensuring that gender equality becomes a reality. Leadership comes not just from those in positions of power, but from men, women, girls and boys from all walks of life.
“It is up to all of us to put an end to the discrimination that continues to fuel the spread of HIV and Aids.”
The Task Force comprises 27 women and men living and working in Southern Africa, who are actively engaged in policy making, programme implementation and community mobilisation.
Zimbabwe’s representatives on the Task Force were National Aids Council chairperson Thandiwe Dumbutshena, National co-ordinator of the Zimbabwe Aids Network, Kate Mhambi-Musimwa, and former director of the Zimbabwe Resource Centre and Network, Isabella Matambanadzo.
MORE NEWS HOME