10 December 2007

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com Please.
Wednesday December 5, 2007

Women the forgotten victims of AIDS


WORLD AIDS Day this year brought good news and bad news. The good news was that the numbers of people getting infected every year in Malaysia dropped a little. (Not that anybody can really explain why.)

The bad news was that among the people who did get infected, more of them were women.

There is a tendency to ignore the fact that women have been getting infected. About 10 years ago, there was a national conference on women and AIDS that expressed concern over women’s vulnerability, and made many recommendations about what to do. Nothing came of it.

The recommendation to have women represented on the National Coordinating Committee on AIDS was met with “If we have a women problem, we’ll ask you to come.” Now, according to government statistics, we do have a “women problem”.

Ten years ago, barely 1% of total reported infections was among women. Now it’s 10%. Last year, 15% of new infections were women.

But it’s important to remember that this is a national average. Local figures may be hugely different.

In Sabah where heterosexual sex is the main mode of transmission, a delegate at the First National AIDS Conference last weekend reported that one woman was infected for every three men. That’s more than double the national average.

I have to grind my teeth in frustration. Nobody takes the issue of women and HIV seriously, I suspect, simply because they are women.

A few months ago, when this newspaper highlighted a study I had presented, that HIV-negative men who married HIV-positive women still refused to use condoms consistently, a political leader from the state the study was done in blamed women for trying to infect their husbands!

When asked for an explanation why women are increasingly becoming infected, another politician said that since women wanted so much to be equal to men, this is what happens! Implying, presumably, that women equal men in loose morals.

But women are becoming infected precisely because they are not equal. Forty per cent of women who have become infected are housewives. Their husbands are almost all injecting drug users who have AIDS.

Most of these women had no idea what AIDS was and, even if they did, there was nothing they could do to protect themselves when protection essentially means either asking their husbands to use condoms or simply refusing to have sex with them.

How many married women can even consider refusing to have sex with their husbands?

That’s why it’s ridiculous to make unqualified recommendations to abstain from sex. Abstaining is not in the vocabulary of married people, especially women. Nor is simply saying “use a condom” as easy as all that when it is not women who have to use them.

Over the weekend, I sat in a time-wasting meeting called to impress on various Ministries the importance of the gender perspective in dealing with the issue of women and AIDS.

For one thing, few people beyond the usual suspects bothered to attend. Secondly, those who did come had no idea what ‘a gender perspective’ meant, not even the ones you would expect should know.

People tended to think that if things were put down on paper that meant that something had been done.

Follow-ups to see that words translated into action were non-existent.

Actions that were taken were evaluated only in terms of how many people were reached by a project, not whether the project actually achieved its objectives.

The much-touted National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS mentions women only once, and even then only in a section title and not in the content of that section.

If you don’t want to understand, you never will. Fifteen years ago, I had no idea what ‘gender’ was but now, because I wanted to understand, I do.

I see people in positions of responsibility who don’t think they need to learn anything who are given to flippant comments, who trivialise everything, as if people’s lives are unimportant.

But if some VIP decides it is important, suddenly they are rushing all over the place trying to spend money to please their bosses. It would be nice if their understanding of an issue were commensurate with the money they are prepared to spend on it.

One of the things I have never understood is why is it that there is such a gulf between government departments and NGOs in terms of a critical understanding of issues.

Why is it that NGOs routinely provide analytical reports while their government counterparts simply report facts and figures without attempting to understand what they are reporting?

Doesn’t anyone even want to know why women are getting infected?

Allowing women to become infected is symptomatic of a larger mindset: women don’t matter.