More than 58% of the people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa are women.
Morenike Ukpong of the Nigeria HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Group says that HIV/AIDS in Africa has “a woman face... further strengthened by high rates of domestic violence”.
Mrs Ukpong points out the socio-cultural status of the African woman predisposes her to the disease. Women’s rights are not of paramount importance in many African societies, they do not have the ability to refuse sexual favours to husbands who may themselves be infected, and they are not able to insist on condom use. Trying to do so often leaves women at risk of physical and sexual violence, with very little redress.
In conflict areas, women are also at risk because gang rape is often seen as an effective weapon of war, used to assert power, inflict pain, shame and humiliation, and terrorise and punish enemy populations. The victims of these heinous crimes are often at risk of disease, through no fault of their own.
Medical care for women is a low priority in many of the world’s poorest countries, and even where such care is available, many of the most vulnerable and at-risk women are not in a position to access it. Medicines and health care are expensive, and when the choice is a woman’s care or her child’s food, most women see no choice at all.
However, it is imperative for the future of the continent that women’s health issues are addressed and the risk to women of contracting HIV/AIDS is reduced. Women have a lot to offer society and if they are sick or weakened, their effectiveness is reduced and everyone suffers.
The next generation suffers if the women of today are unable to care for them, leaving the burden of care on the shoulders of older children, who then have to forego education, career and future to do a job that should not yet be theirs.
Sick and weakened women cannot work effectively, meaning farms don’t get tended, animals aren’t cared for, goods don’t get sold.
And of course, infected women risk infecting men who come into contact with them sexually, as well as passing on the virus to children they bear or breast feed. The resultant deaths are further increasing poverty, placing enormous loads on relatives who have to take care of the families of brothers and sisters who have died and creating a generation of child heads of home as 10 and 12 years olds now become the oldest in the family. This is in fact affecting WIN leaders already.
We'll tell you how next week...