Toronto Star Profiles Work of Women’s HIV/AIDS Advocacy Group in Namibia
The Toronto Star on Wednesday profiled the work of the International Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDS in Namibia, which aims to improve support, information and services available for HIV-positive women in the country. The group also works to increase HIV-positive women's influence and input on policy development in Namibia. According to the Star, stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and the "social realities of being a woman in a poverty-stricken and unequal society" underscore the fact that the "plight of an HIV-positive woman goes beyond already troubling issues of medication access and proper health care."
Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, ICW Namibia's program coordinator, said that through the program, women and girls living with HIV/AIDS are allowed to "advocate for their own issues, be it rights issues, economic empowerment issues or sexual reproductive health issues." Gatsi-Mallet added, "Through support groups that they organize, meetings that they attend with ministry officials and training workshops that they attend, it's all in an effort to ultimately make them feel empowered, where at many times in their life they may feel powerless."
In 2005, ICW Namibia, under Gatsi-Mallet's leadership, began organizing training workshops in reaction to the growing problems experienced by HIV-positive women in previously isolated villages and communities, as well as the realization that women across the country had little or no access to health care facilities or reproductive and sexual health knowledge. At such a workshop in January, several HIV-positive women said they had been forcibly sterilized because of their HIV status. Although a few women knew the consequences of the procedure, they consented because they needed other services. Such cases have prompted ICW -- along with the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia and ICW branches in London and Washington, D.C. -- to investigate the matter and support the affected women (Sidhu, Toronto Star, 8/20).