Women and AIDS Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
February 10, 2007

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THE fight against HIV/AIDS in Guyana is taking on new directions with women becoming the major focus group, according to one leading health official.

Organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS have concentrated on four major areas in the past few years: condom use (along with abstinence and being faithful, the ABC's of prevention); getting persons tested for the disease; treatment and care of those living with HIV/AIDS; and reducing stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease.

While these have been successful to varying degrees, there has been a new approach being taken, focusing on persons who belong to sections of the population which are deemed to be at greater risk of exposure to infection.

A recent study on commercial sex workers may have highlighted some basic problems associated with women as a whole when dealing with prevention of infection.

Women are at a distinct disadvantage in negotiating condom use during sex, for example. In fact, women are at a disadvantage in negotiating sex in itself.

There may be a number of factors behind this. It may be, for example, that economic considerations can come into the equation, with many women depending on a sexual partner for their livelihoods, a dependence which tips the balance of negotiation in favour of the man. This was reflected in the study on Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs) but holds equal water when it comes to the general population.

Cultural conditioning may also be seen as a potential factor with women growing up learning to defer to men in decision-making at every aspect of the relationship, including the sexual.

Another factor can also be the education level of many women, with lack of adequate knowledge about HIV/AIDS infection helping to raise the level of their risk of infection.

What is therefore needed is a comprehensive campaign to empower women so that they understand the issues at hand.

With that basic understanding they would be able now to be in a better position to talk about these issues and to discuss them.

One key element, for example, within this strategy, would be the promotion of a relatively new sexual health product: the female condom. Unlike with the male condom, the usage of this device shifts the responsibility to the woman.

Whatever the strategies used, it is going to be a fairly arduous task ahead. But HIV/AIDS is just not a medical issue and if empowering women to negotiate the actions which impact on their own sexual health is going to affect our culture, it is nothing new exactly.

Science has been pointing the path towards how we deal with the disease and people have been going in the direction shown.

Today, the signs are showing giving more power to women can be an important step in preventing the spread of the disease. Numerous unrelated studies have shown that whatever women learn, they tend to teach to their children and so the message gets through to another generation.

Eight years ago, for example, people never dealt with the topic of condoms as publicly as we do today but precisely because of the spread of this disease we had to start doing it.