THE 16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM TO STOP GENDER BASED VIOLENCE
Addressing the Linkage between Poverty; Sexual Harassment and HIV Infection
Leila Sheikh- 3/11/2011
TO EFFECTIVELY engage in the Linkages between HIV/AIDS; Gender Based Violence and Poverty in the context of advocacy and service provision, one must adopt a diverse range of strategies to bring issues which are often considered controversial and insignificant, from the periphery to the centre of the struggles for social justice by providing information on HIV Prevention with the inter linkages which are causal to HIV infection and the strategies needed to address the causality to all sectors in our society.
While Marginalized Women like Women Food Vendors face severe forms of oppression not only in terms of Poverty and Lack of Upward Mobility in their Economic Livelihoods, they also face a marked lack of information on Coercive Sex as one of the conduits of HIV infection and that Coercive Sex is grouped in the Gender Based Violence scenario which can and has had a adverse impact in their community lives. They also lack awareness that they can be trained to become agents for change in their communities.
They often feel they are victims of their circumstances, but try to cope with the barrage of stigma; discrimination and sometimes violence in their lives and often dream of the kind of life that they want to live which includes the dream of living in a society which is ‘Free of Gender Based Violence; Poverty; HIV/AIDS; a society in which women have control over and own their bodies and the decisions over their bodies, decisions which should be informed while given a diversity of options ’.
This willpower to ‘live’ even in the face of insurmountable challenges needs to be tapped so that the HIV/AIDS programs become all encompassing by ‘reaching out’ to constituencies which are often diverse but whose diversity are yet to be analyzed or included in National Policies and Strategic Plans as a matter of interface and inter linkage: Poverty- Gender Based Violence/Coercive Sex- HIV infection.
Their plight of being poor; uninformed on Human Rights and their economic livelihoods (being in the peripheries of the economic circle) is either ignored by society or they are abused; marginalized from the mainstream to the extent HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs rarely access this constituency.
Positive changes in Policies, Legislation and Gender Related HIV infections are increasingly recognized in International Human Rights law, particularly in the areas of Poverty and Economic Livelihoods and Gender Based Violence. Their Low Literacy Levels place Marginalized Women like Women Food Vendors at the mercy of abusive clients; local authorities and sometimes, the police.
Their low literacy makes them ineligible for formal employment while lack of capital and lack of surety for loans forces them to engage in the informal sector of vending food without business licenses and since they do not pay income tax, they are placed at the disadvantage of being compelled to engage in Coercive Sex in order to protect their sources of livelihoods and their persons from being prosecuted for operating outside the formalized structures of business which in turn places them at a high risk of HIV infection. It is a fact that in Coercive Sex, the woman would have no say in condom protection as opposed to Consensual Sex.
Moreover, though changes in policies, laws and development approaches at the international, regional and national levels have helped to advance the realization of the linkage between and among HIV/AIDS; Gender Based Violence and Poverty, the implementation has lagged. (Source: Impact of Sexual Harassment on Women’s Incomes/Leila Sheikh/2009).
Critical to these change processes have been government initiated programs which one must say have been quite innovative in reaching out to a broad based constituency so that intervention against HIV infection and Care and Treatment has almost become universal in the country. (Source: National Strategic Plans on HIV/AIDS).
In addition, several initiatives aimed at strengthening health systems, usually in the context of harmonization and alignment in support of country-led processes; demonstrate heightened donor attention to HIV/AIDS. (Source: UNAIDS).
HIV/AIDS Intervention encompasses health and well-being in matters related to sexual relations. It deals with the most intimate and private aspects of people’s lives, which can be difficult to write about and discuss publicly. As a result, the public misunderstands many HIV/AIDS related matters like Coercive Sex for example. In addition, cultural sensitivities and taboos surrounding sexuality often prevent people from seeking information and care, while lack of sufficient data and testimonies preclude the government from addressing the interlinking issues of Poverty, Coercive Sex and HIV infection.
Yet, HIV/AIDS profoundly affects the social and economic development of the country. When parents die from AIDS related causes, children are orphaned. When girls must take over care of their siblings, they drop out of school. Without an education, girls often engage in the informal sector or become sex workers and are often prone to HIV infection or to begin having children early, which can jeopardize their health and limit their opportunities to add productively to their lives; those of their families and to the community and their country’s development.
The media play a critical role in bringing the inter linkages between HIV infection; Gender Based Violence and Poverty to the attention of people who can influence Public Health Policies. These people include government officials and staff; leaders of nongovernmental organizations, including women’s groups and religious groups; academics and health experts; and health advocates and other opinion leaders. (Source: Journalists’ Guide to SRHR Monitoring).
Many of these influential people read news reports and listen to broadcasts daily, and their opinions are shaped by them. Occasionally, one news report can spur a decision maker to act. More often, however, a continuous flow of information is needed to educate diverse audiences about issues and inform public policy debates.
Therefore, it is crucial that a program which has a three-pronged approach: HIV Prevention- Gender Based Violence and Confronting Poverty as an important starting point which should lead to conversations around linkages and the impact of addressing linkages to have a holistic approach on HIV Intervention.
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