HIV Prevention Options For Women: Does The Women's Movement Have Time To Demand Women-initiated Prevention Right Now?
This session involved panelists from three African countries who presented arguments and engaged the audience in answering key issues around women’s options for preventing HIV infections.
Women should demand a balance between treatment and prevention. Access and costs to securing treatments for HIV and STIs were main barriers to women in general, and to young women and girls in particular, especially in rural areas where few health centres, cultural barriers, distances, and lack of materials curtailed women’s access to treatments and preventative measures. The female condom (f.c.), although manufactured by only two companies, is either not readily available for use, or is too costly, or is not understood properly by both young women and the society at large. Yet, the use of microbicides gives women control over their options.
Distractions: Preventative measures tend to focus more on male strategies, such as the importance of circumcision, rather than on reaching women with the f.c., education (in school curriculum), and counseling. Messages about Abstinence-Be faithful-use Condom (ABC) have not proven effective for women as they do not have the power of negotiation and choice over their bodies. The dual pandemic of violence against women plus HIV infection increases women’s vulnerability as it is deeply rooted in power relationships between men and women.
Women themselves must change their attitudes towards the f.c. by demystifying phobias around the vagina, which even many health workers and elders hold. Many have not yet seen prevention as a health right, and therefore, do not speak in a united voice to demand this. Double standards exist: communities need to check on the virginity status of both their boys and girls, as boys usually have more freedoms.
Structural changes are necessary including demanding fair pricing of prevention measures, the political sphere to promote policy that changes attitudes, and educational emphases aimed at young girls and women in school curriculum. Donors should fund research that improves the f.c. effectiveness, and that addresses psycho/social dynamics of using prevention tools. Investment in f.c. is necessary by governments in the microbicides field, preparations, and vaccines against HIV – all which remain under-funded.
Conclusions: Women movements must demand for a greater balance between treatment and prevention and promote the positive results of using microbicides as empowering women. Sexuality and reproduction rights should be part of a rights-based education focus, particularly on young women.
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