Health, Rights
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The Necessity of a Gendered Approach to HIV/AIDS

Written By: Marie-Claire Klassen

 Malilapa Mate says that if you had seen her five months ago, she wouldn’t be the vivacious, smiling young mother she is today. When the twenty-one year old became pregnant two years ago, there was a problem—she had no husband. Without the security of marriage she faced discrimination and harassment in her community.

“Before I came to Help Lesotho I was hiding. I was afraid to go into town because I worried I might see one of my former schoolmates and face their judgment.” – Malilapa Mate

Help Lesotho, an organization working in the tiny ‘Mountain Kingdom’ of Lesotho, started a Young Mothers Program to empower women like Malilapa with the life skills they need to keep their babies AIDS free and promote a culture in which HIV/AIDS is no longer stigmatized.

The impetus for this initiative stems from the brutal effects HIV/AIDS has had on the Basotho nation.  Lesotho currently has the third highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world. While the overall percentage of HIV positive individuals has dropped since 2003, when estimates were as high as 30%, Lesotho’s current rate of 23% has remained static since 2005. In 2007, the chief executive of the National AIDS commission, Keketso Sefeane, stated that AIDS had the potential to wipe out the Basotho nation.

One of the difficulties Lesotho and other developing nations face in the attempt to address the AIDS pandemic is the lack of holistic, gender focused programming.  All too often HIV is perceived through two narrow paradigms: HIV as a moral issue and HIV as a health issue. The former views HIV as a consequence of sexual promiscuity and seeks to change behavior. The danger of this framework is that it ultimately perpetuates the stigmas and guilt surrounding the disease. The second perspective removes morality from the equation and views HIV as a health issue. The solution is more testing, more clinics, and more free antiretroviral drugs [ARVs]. While a medical approach is necessary, the reality that certain population groups continue to be disproportionately affected begs the question—why are they not seeking testing and treatment?

 At its core, HIV/AIDS is a gender issue.

The reason why both of these approaches ultimately fall short is because women are disproportionally affected by HIV; in Lesotho women make up 60% of HIV positive adults. This stems from a number of factors including the prevalence of rape and the difficulties women face negotiating condom use. However, the problem is not just that more women are HIV positive but the added difficulties women face due to their gender and place in society. Now that the second generation of HIV children have reached adulthood, we have a generation of new mothers who never had mothers; as a consequence, many lack the life skills and confidence they need to keep their babies AIDS free and raise their children.

The gender perspective on the HIV pandemic shows us what the moral and health based approaches ultimately fail to address—the power structures cemented by society and culture that marginalize women and perpetuate the cycle of HIV transmission. These issues are the reason why Help Lesotho believes a gendered approach to HIV is necessary and why the Young Mothers Program is proving effective.

The gendered approach to HIV embedded in the Young Mothers Program addresses women’s needs as a whole person. Programming begins with psychosocial support, which builds confidence in young mothers – many of whom have experienced devastating abuse and trauma in their lives. Participants then move to breaking-down the stigma and discrimination they face at both individual and community levels. Once the young mothers have begun to heal and develop coping strategies, they are not only ready to receive knowledge about HIV/AIDS but are also eager to implement it into their own lives.

When we look at the issue of HIV/AIDS through the lens of gender, we are forced to recognize that the AIDS pandemic cannot be addressed in isolation, but requires holistic programming that considers the whole person within the context of her community. Ultimately, this framework is radically different from those that focus solely on behavior modification or ARV distribution.

This article is a revised edition of a piece originally published in Generation C Magazine

Check out this video to learn more about Help Lesotho:

 

3 Comments

  1. Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp says

    I think this sums gender & HIV/AIDS up perfectly: “However, the problem is not just that more women are HIV positive but the added difficulties women face due to their gender and place in society.” Thanks for this post!

  2. Pingback: Fighting HIV/AIDS Prevents Maternal Death | Salt Creek International Women's Health Foundation

  3. He that work and never ask for anything thanks Dr CUBA for good work for healing my brother for HIV sickness he was very sick for a year + and my daddy have spend so much money on medical care and drug he have being taking to some many place for healing… even different pastor have pray for him it get worse every 6hous the man that heal with 45mins is here the man that the lord god have giving the power to put every thing in place the man that give a word and never fail my kid brother was just chatting one day when he see this post of jack about the curing of HIV virus by Dr CUBA he run to my daddy and tell him about the man my daddy decided to call him and confirm it if it is true about the cure the man just assure him about his work that the great power of is for father and his gods cure any disease include HIV/AID, Ebola, Rota virus, Smallpox ,Hepatitis well we have hope on him which we give a try to after 45 mines my big brother started getting better as am write this comment his is at work now what a miracle….. if you need help from Dr DR CUBA contact him now my friend through his email or phone number drcubatemple@gmai l.com Add DR CUBA on WhatApp +2347038965900

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