Women living with and affected by HIV in Latin America met recently in Panama to identify tools and methodologies to undertake their own study on the “vulnerabilities of women living with HIV in Latin America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean.”
The group of 20 women who took part are members of the Latin American and Caribbean Movement of Women Living with HIV (MLCM+) and they refuse to have their realities reflected only in graphs and numbers. Therefore, they have embarked on a qualitative investigation around the vulnerabilities and the diversity of women living with HIV in 13 countries in Latin America as well as Cuba.
“We want this qualitative study to tell the stories that numbers do not tell,” says Marcela Alsina, the Director of Movement of Women Living with HIV. “It's a study by us and for us to demand policy change, funding and participation of women. We are tired of being objects of investigation for studies ending up on shelves. The success of this study depends on us. If we shelve the study, we shelve our life.”
The study will consist of three parts. First, there will be a mapping of the existing policies and legislation promoting and protecting women. The second part will take stock of women living with HIV participating in national AIDS responses. Finally in-depth interviews will be conducted with women living with HIV from different age groups and life situations including those at higher risk of infection such as migrant and displaced women, women in prisons and women using drugs. These interviews will establish the different conditions that make women vulnerable and exposed to HIV.
It's a study by us and for us to demand policy change, funding and participation of women
Marcela Alsina, Director of Movement of Women Living with HIV
The study developed by MLCM+ is being supported by UNAIDS as part of the regional efforts to implement the Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV which addresses the rights and needs of women and girls and highlights opportunities to work with networks of women living with HIV.
“This study will give us strategic information and evidence and make us the agents of change in our national responses,” said Gracia Violeta Ross from the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV (REDBOL).
Ms Alsina is one of an estimated 550 000 women living with HIV in Latin America. There has been a reported increase in new HIV infections among women in the region. Participants at the meeting expressed the need to complement the current standards on HIV prevention which focus on the reduction of personal risk behaviours with approaches that seek to reduce vulnerabilities to HIV infection.
According to MLCM+ members, personal risk reduction approaches such as reducing the number of partners and increasing condom use are insufficient. The HIV response lacks programmes that reduce conditions of vulnerability to HIV among women, including poverty reduction, increased access to education for women, integrated sexual and reproductive health services, non-discriminatory services for HIV positive women and the elimination of gender-based violence in all its forms. Tackling these underlying conditions requires more long-term and integrated strategies.
“We need a movement for social justice, a place at the table to change the conditions that are creating the vulnerabilities of all women,” said Nadine Gasman, Director of the United Nations Secretary-Generals' Campaign UNITE To End Violence Against Women which aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.
The new UNAIDS Strategy 2011-2015 promotes zero tolerance of gender-based violence and discrimination. UNAIDS Regional Director César Núñez stressed the need to place women and men living with HIV at the centre of the AIDS response.