In early December, about 20 women parliamentarians, journalists and members of nonprofit groups from South Asia, met in Washington, D.C. to come up with strategies to help women suffering from AIDS, to reduce the number of women losing their homes after caring for husbands suffering from the disease, to help HIV-positive women who cannot reach rural clinics and to help teens in the prevention of AIDS. The women are from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and they came to the U.S. for the South Asia Initiative on Women and HIV-AIDS Policymaking.
There were two specific goals for the program. The members of parliament from the three above mentioned countries were to propose a strategy to improve the lives of women and girls affected by AIDS and HIV. The representatives from the various countries had to come up with a plan for the epidemic. It so happens that ninety percent of the women who are HIV positive got the disease from their husbands or partners, according to United Nations statistics.
Dr. Robert Bollinger, a professor at John Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education said, “The majority of women at risk for HIV are only at risk because of their husbands.” Those husbands engage in very risky behavior such as having unprotected sex with prostitutes or other men, or injecting themselves with drugs.
Less than one percent of women in South Asia are HIV positive, but many women are at risk because they cannot protect themselves from transmission due to lack of information about sex, sexual violence and gender inequality. Bollinger said that reducing that risk is a real challenge because the women are disenfranchised and do not have any control over their reproductive health.
The Pakistani representatives want to help women living in rural areas gain access to treatment. Parliamentarian Dr. Donya Aziz envisions a plan where rural HIV positive women can receive stipends to assist them in traveling to clinics and in paying for their medication.
The Indian representatives want to enforce property rights for women. Women who have AIDS in India, consistently face discrimination because of a stigma of immorality and sexual promiscuity that comes with the disease. Many women who take care of their AIDS ridden husbands until the husbands die, are then thrown out of their in-laws’ house. This practice is illegal. Indian journalist Teresa Rehman and her colleagues plan to contact lawyers who will work on HIV and AIDS and urge them to write a brochure and organize a hotline to give information to women about their property rights.