The Impact of HIV/AIDS on women in Africa is the focus of a conference opening Tuesday, September 9th, in Gabarone, Botswana. Health officials and activists say women are bearing the brunt of the epidemic both as victims and caregivers.
As the HIV/AIDS figures mount, the trend of infections is clear. Women are falling victim to the disease more often than men. Sandy Thurman is president of the non-governmental organization, the International AIDS Trust.
She says, "If we look at the fact that more than half of the people living with HIV around the world are women – that’s almost 60 percent in Africa – it becomes increasingly clear that this is a disease that affects women in ways that it doesn’t affect men. And it even goes broader than that. It’s primarily women who are bearing the burden of caring for the sick. You know, they’re taking care of orphans. They’re going to the fields when their spouses or partners die. So at the end of the day this really is a huge issue for women around the world, but particularly in Africa."
Ms. Thurman directed U-S national AIDS policy under the Clinton Administration. She says the Botswana conference will look at ways of fighting the disease using the power of the parliament.
"Well, the purpose of the conference in Botswana is actually to get parliamentarians to focus on the disproportionate impact of this epidemic, the HIV and AIDS epidemic on women – and look at ways that we can use the parliamentary process to develop sound policies that help us mitigate the disease in the countries hardest hit," she says.
The title of the conference is a long one: “Reducing Women’s Vulnerability and Combating Stigma in the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in Africa.” It’s being held in conjunction with a human rights conference sponsored by AWEPA, the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa.
Sandy Thurman says the meeting brings together women from around the world to discuss HIV/AIDS as a gender issue.
She says, "Looking at issues like access to education for girls; looking at things like inheritance laws that prohibit women from inheriting when their partner has passed away from AIDS. And so looking at all these other policy issues that have to be addressed if we’re actually going to be effective in our efforts to combat AIDS."
Ms. Thurman says HIV/AIDS is more than a health problem. It also raises human rights and security concerns.
She says, "So, we have to look at how the legislation machine in a democracy can move to help us support AIDS programs and remove the barriers that keep us from being able to get the job done."
Besides the International AIDS Trust, the conference is sponsored by the International Center for Research on Women, the Ethical Globalization Initiative and the Center for AIDS at the University of Pretoria. The Bill & Melinda gates Foundation lent financial support.