World AIDS Day 2008

aids_day.jpg

"We must even challenge tradition, if needs be to change the balance of power, so that our children and our grandchildren are saved from HIV."

-Graça Machel, President, Community Development Foundation of Mozambique; Former Minister of Education of Mozambique; and The Hunger Project's Africa Prize Laureate (1992)

December 1, 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. At its inception, there were approximately 45,000 reported AIDS cases. Today, more than 30 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Although improvements in treatment options mean that for the first time ever, we are seeing a decline in the numbers of people dying of AIDS related causes, still, in 2007 there were 2.1 million instances. And the epidemic is continually expanding. For every two people starting treatment, another five are newly infected (UNAIDS 2008).

The disease is particularly devastating in sub-Saharan Africa. Seventy-two percent of total deaths from AIDS-related causes occur in the region. It is also home to 90 percent of the children who die from AIDS-related causes. And every year, millions more are newly infected (UNAIDS 2008).

The 2008 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, the most comprehensive publication of its kind to date, states that in order to make sustainable progress in dealing with HIV/AIDS, we must transform the societal conditions that fuel it. Key amongst those conditions, according to the report, is gender inequality.

Gender and HIV/AIDS

The report cites multiple ways in which gender inequality drives the epidemic forward, including:

  • In some societies it is considered a masculine ideal for men to have sex with multiple partners and much younger partners, and men may be stigmatized for seeking HIV services.
  • Violence against women, experienced by up to 45 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa, puts them at far greater risk of contracting HIV.
  • Women's low status and lack of control over resources may prevent them from accessing services and information related to HIV.

In addition to promoting gender equity in terms of access to HIV services and information, the report stresses that women's poverty and economic independence overall must be addressed if we are to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS; a study from Botswana and Swaziland showed that women who live with hunger are 70 percent less likely to feel they have control in their sexual relationships, 70 percent more likely to have unprotected sex, and 80 percent more likely to engage in "survival sex" than women who are sufficiently nourished (UNAIDS 2008).

The Hunger Project HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop

In 2003, The Hunger Project developed its HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality workshop. Since then, more than 840,000 rural sub-Saharan Africans have participated. The workshops, conducted in local languages, combine clear, accurate information on HIV/AIDS with a campaign of action to transform harmful gender roles and practices that sustain the epidemic.

As a result of our intervention, the use of male and female condoms has risen. In Malawi in particular, the introduction of female condoms has been a huge success (learn more about this initiative). Counseling and testing programs have been successfully introduced. Local men are taking responsibility for their role in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. And, communities are transforming gender relations, leading to fewer instances of domestic violence, more girls in school, and the abolition of harmful local practices, such as those that require a young widow to have sex with a village elder.

The Hunger Project's programs are building the capacity of grassroots-level leaders. When empowered with accurate information and freed from social taboos, attitudes and behaviors that fuel the epidemic, the women and men of Africa have proven that they can protect themselves and their families.

Sources

Graça Machel quote from article by Kerry Cullinan, "Graça Machel lambasts governments' poor AIDS response." Centre for the Study of AIDS, 10/11/2002.

UNAIDS. UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2008. Geneva, August 2008.