Reportaje

Economic security for women key to HIV prevention

08 March 2006

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A new paper published today by the UNAIDS-led Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (GCWA) shows that  when women have an income and a safe place to live, they are much better able to negotiate abstinence, fidelity, and safer sex. Economic security, the paper stresses, is a major factor in enabling women to protect themselves from HIV.

Today, however, of the 1.2 billion people living on less than US $1 a day, 70% are women.  They also represent almost half of all people living with HIV globally.

When women are economically and financially dependent on male partners and family members, their bargaining power over sexual matters can be reduced, making them more vulnerable to HIV. Where women lack property rights, they suffer restricted economic options, reduced personal security, poverty, violence, and homelessness. Poverty can also encourage risky livelihood measures, such as enduring an abusive relationship or engaging in unsafe sex in exchange for money, housing, food or education.

Women whose partners fall sick and die, particularly of AIDS, frequently suffer discrimination, abandonment, and violence. In some regions, when their husband dies, women can lose their homes, inheritance, possessions, and livelihood. “My husband’s family took farm equipment, livestock, cooking pans, bank records, pension documents, house utensils, blankets and clothes… They said they had bought me [with a dowry] and therefore I had no voice in that home” says Emily Owino of Kenya.

With sick children, and no money to buy food or clothes, Emily went to stay with her own family. When she came back to take up residence in her marital home, she discovered that her land and her last few possessions had been taken. “I was destitute,” she says.

To help women like Emily, the UNAIDS-led Global Coalition works on securing women’s property rights. In 2005, it initiated a small grants programme to support nine organizations in sub-Saharan Africa that are implementing innovative projects to advance women’s property rights in the context of HIV and AIDS. 

The Zimbabwe Widows and Orphans Trust (ZWOT) is one such organization. “The widows who come to ZWOT have absolutely nothing” says founder Susan Zwinoira. “Their morale is low and they have no resources. They often come to us looking for legal assistance. We start by getting as much information as we can from the widow and then we determine which route is best to follow. Negotiations with the family are sometimes successful. But where they fail, matters can end up with the police, in court… Every Tuesday and Thursday we receive a welcoming reception. We have even started to call them “Widows’ days”.

Another grant recipient is the Rwanda Women's Network. Its Director Mary Balikungeri explains: “The Network was established in 1995 to support widows and orphans who survived the genocide. We started a low-cost housing project for widows and constructed about 200 houses all over the country which are now occupied by widows. We are also promoting nutritional gardening. Each woman who was given a small house has a small gardening plot but it is too small. We plan to negotiate with local authorities to provide us with a collective farming plot.”

Securing property and inheritance rights for women and girls has clear value in HIV prevention.  Many promising initiatives are using microfinance and skills training to improve women’s access to economic assets, such as land, property and credit, and to reduce their vulnerability to HIV.

Read the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS Issues Brief on Property Rights  

Related links
Global Coalition on Women and AIDS
Zimbabwe Widows and Orphans Trust

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