Caribbean Coalition on Women, Girls Pledges To Address HIV, Gender-Based Violence
The Caribbean Coalition on Women, Girls and AIDS on Thursday pledged to address all aspects of female vulnerability to HIV -- including violence against women -- and cited growing concerns that current HIV/AIDS strategies are not adequately addressing their needs, Inter Press Service reports. The coalition in a statement said that the "role of sexual violence in HIV transmission is becoming clearer." The statement added, "Women now comprise 51% of adults living with HIV. ... Current AIDS responses have often ignored the social, cultural and economic factors that place women at risk, and those HIV programs that seek to redress the imbalance and inequity have been inconsistent and haphazard."
CCWA will focus on programs to address commercial sex work, data collection, and capacity building on gender and HIV/AIDS with the aim of mainstreaming gender issues in regional and national HIV/AIDS policies. Its members include Trinidadian first lady Jean Ramjohn-Richards; Dame Pearlette Louisy, the governor-general of St. Lucia; and Dame Billie Miller, a former foreign minister from Barbados.
According to Inter Press Service, official data show that one in six women between ages 15 and 24 became sexually active prior to age 15 in countries like Antigua, Barbuda, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Roberta Clarke, regional program director at UNIFEM's Caribbean office, said a 2000 Pan American Health Organization survey found that almost 50% of adolescent girls' first sexual experience was forced or coerced. The study also noted that violence, or just the threat of violence, increases a woman's vulnerability to HIV by making it difficult or impossible to negotiate condom use and safer sex. Women's relationship expectations also can be affected and can prevent them from accessing HIV prevention, care and treatment services, according to the survey.
Clarke said that despite gains in gender equality, "inequalities persist, and beliefs and practices deeply rooted in our cultures perpetuate the vulnerability of women and girls to certain harm." Male socializing -- whether in homes, churches, schools or through popular culture -- continues to emphasize aggression, control and power as central aspects of masculinity, Clarke said, adding that masculinity is "still associated with risk taking, with power and control, with early sexual activity and with multiple partnerships." She said that for women, "socio-economic dependency, whether expected or a consequence of circumstances, interferes or impedes the ability to demand safe sexual practice." Clarke said that it is known that the Caribbean is "an unsafe space for women," and that the "ever-present threat of physical harm restricts our choices and terrorizes our minds."
Dawn Foderingham, the regional partnership's adviser for UNAIDS, said the Caribbean needs to take "collective action in addressing violence against women." According to Clarke, UNIFEM has two regional priorities -- ending violence against women and stopping or reversing the spread of HIV. She said support for CCWA -- which has support from UNAIDS' regional office, the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, and the University of the West Indies' Center for Gender Development Studies -- brings the two priorities together in a coherent way (Richards, Inter Press Service, 3/12).