Women’s Limited Power To Negotiate Safer Sex Hindering HIV Prevention Efforts, Conference Delegates Say
The limited power women have to negotiate safer-sex practices is one of the greatest obstacles to reducing their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, according to delegates who recently attended the 8th Commonwealth Women Affairs Ministers Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, IPS/AllAfrica.com reports. Of the 53 members of the Commonwealth of Nations, 38 were represented at the three-day conference, which was themed "Financing Gender Equality for Development and Democracy."
According to United Nations statistics, one-third of all HIV cases in Commonwealth countries occur among women and girls. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls and women ages 15 to 24 are two-and-a-half times more likely to be HIV-positive compared with men of the same age, IPS/AllAfrica.com reports (Mulama, IPS/AllAfrica.com, 6/14). Ugandan first lady Janet Museveni at the conference said, "The most immediate cause of women's HIV vulnerability is their limited power to negotiate safer sex, combined with the lack of female-controlled HIV prevention methods other than the female condom." She added, "The female condom has proved to be too costly for many women, is not always available and cannot always be used without the partner's knowledge."
Museveni called on member countries to help in the development an HIV/AIDS vaccine and asked countries affected by the disease to support vaccine trials. "If an AIDS vaccine is to become a reality, there is need to significantly expand the level of political support globally," Museveni said, adding, "Where there is significant political will, there is usually significant financial support." She also called for the training of counselors to help support and rehabilitate women who are survivors of rape and mutilation, as well as to reintegrate women in their communities and provide for infants of rape survivors (Namutebi, New Vision/AllAfrica.com, 6/13).
According to Anit Mukherjee, a researcher at the Commission on AIDS in Asia, governments should increase their funding for HIV/AIDS initiatives. She added that efforts to reduce women's risk of HIV infection must include men, IPS/AllAfrica.com reports. "For the war against HIV/AIDS to be won, men must be brought on board," Mukherjee said, adding, "They too need to be informed about prevention methods and having safe sex."
Safiya Muhammad, permanent secretary and acting minister for women's affairs in Nigeria, said, "The powerlessness of the woman to say 'no' to sex with her husband, even if she knows he is [HIV-positive], is a major cause for concern." Muhammad added that men, regardless of their HIV status, "force their women into sex." According to Muhammad, "Unless [Commonwealth countries] address this, HIV/AIDS will continue to wear the face of a woman."
The conference's theme "reflects the growing awareness that women's rights and gender equality are being overlooked in development and democratization processes," Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon wrote in a note on the Commonwealth's Web site. He added, "In the Commonwealth, we see the impact of that neglect in a number of ways," including the "widespread HIV/AIDS prevalence among women and girls." Delegates were expected to develop recommendations to address the issues discussed at the conference and come up with a timetable for implementation (IPS/AllAfrica.com, 6/14).