THE BLOG

Capping AIDS Requires Stepping It Up For Gender Equality

03/10/2016 12:50 EST | Updated 03/11/2017 05:12 EST
Randy Plett via Getty Images
Three African women laugh while they collect green tea leaves in the countryside of Uganda.

By Christine Stenton, youth intern, CAP/AIDS, ICAD

As an intern for the CAP-AIDS Network working in Kampala with the organization CAP-AIDS Uganda -- an organization supporting local efforts to resist, survive and overcome HIV/AIDS -- I have seen the gendered impact that HIV/AIDS has within particular communities where many of the challenges faced are specific to the experiences of women.

In honour of International Women's Day, I would like to shine a light on some of CAP-AIDS Uganda's local partners, many of which showcase the strength and resilience of women living in marginalized communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

The presence of gender inequality becomes apparent within the communities of CAP-AIDS Uganda's CBO partners upon observing gender disparities in domestic labour and unpaid work, access to capital, as well as land and housing rights. These women are breadwinners, caregivers and active agents of community development who are entrenched in the social welfare of family, friends and neighbours.

Since reproductive labour and domestic responsibilities are often gendered in Uganda's marginalized communities, this reproductive work (e.g. child care, domestic activities, caregiving for sick household members) creates an additional barrier for women living in poverty because it limits their ability to seek other employment opportunities and transition out of poverty.

Women affected by HIV/AIDS are even more vulnerable in light of these barriers because it affects their ability to access essential services and support (such as antiretroviral medication, vitamins and counselling) that are necessary for them to stay healthy and care for others who are sick.

In reaction to a lack of access to economic capital, women increasingly form groups using whatever social capital they have within their communities to create opportunities to benefit themselves and their families.

For example, one of CAP-AIDS Uganda's partners called the Aboke HIV/AIDS Women's Association (AHWA) has formed a savings group, or "sacco" (cooperative), to help facilitate members paying for their children's school fees and other important livelihood purchases such as food, clothing, shelter and health care.

This group farms together and shares the profits, allowing members to take out loans from the collective pool of savings and pay them back with interest. This organization is a great example of Ugandan women working together to support each other and their dependents by creating their own social safety net.

The Needy Support Center (NSC) is another community-based organization that is a partner to CAP-AIDS Uganda; this organization was formed to provide outreach/caregiving for members of the community affected by HIV/AIDS. Group members engage in income generating activities that support caregivers of orphans and orphaned youth with the aim of developing sustainable livelihoods.

Most of NSC's members consist of women and many of its members head single-parent households. Several caregivers have taken in orphans from friends and family who have died as a result of HIV/AIDS.

Joyce Oroma is a great example of this kindhearted spirit: Joyce is a mother to 25 kids in her care (20 of which are orphans). Joyce's story reflects the insecure reality of residents of informal settlements as she has been forcibly evicted and displaced from her home three times in the past several years.

In spite of the instability and precariousness that Joyce and other NSC members are up against, she has persevered and started a successful business selling chickens since participating in CAP-AIDS Uganda's 2009-2012 Sustainable Livelihoods project, which allows her to support, care and educate her many children.

It is women like these members of the grassroots organizations' AHWA and NSC -- women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS and continue to take care of those in need -- that are the change-makers on the ground doing what they can do stop the cycle from repeating itself, spreading knowledge and awareness, fighting stigma and providing whatever support they can offer within their communities.

These women understand what is needed to address this issue and we need to start listening to them and enabling access to the resources they require if we as an international community want to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of ending HIV by 2030.

While women are the most active line of defence in responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis on the ground, women (especially young women) are also very vulnerable to the spread of HIV since they are not always in control of their sexual and reproductive health.

These women need more support (both rights-based and resource-based) to ensure that the social safety nets they are pulling together are meeting their health and safety needs. Otherwise the aim to end HIV by 2030 as a public health threat will be delayed. In this way, pushing the Sustainable Development Goal of attaining gender equality is imperative for any effective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

If you would like to learn more about the work that the CAP-AIDS Network does to support local efforts addressing HIV/AIDS-related issues in Uganda and other East African countries, check out their website.

Christine Stenton is currently living in Kampala working as an intern for the CAP-AIDS Network and their Ugandan partner CAP-AIDS Uganda as part of the International Youth Internship Program through Global Affairs Canada. Christine has an MA in political economy from Carleton University (her research specialized in informal settlements in African Cities) and a BA in international development studies from Saint Mary's University. Christine is a passionate advocate for women's rights to the city and hopes to see urban planning and policy become more inclusive of the differentiated ways women experience urban space.

2016-03-10-1457576016-4144771-BannerHuffPoIWD2016.jpg

This blog is part of an International Women's Day series produced by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) in recognition of International Women's Day 2016 (March 8). The series runs during the week of March 7, 2016 and will feature a selection of blogs written by our member and partner organizations who will share their broad range. Each provides their perspective and their insight on what must be done to achieve UN Women's campaign of "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality" as we embark on the race to meet our 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog series are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ICAD.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

MORE ON HUFFPOST:

International Women's Day