Pacific must address gender equality to combat HIV

As indigenous peoples around the world contemplate how to strengthen efforts to tackle HIV in their communities, an HIV advocate in the Pacific believes that more emphasis should be put on addressing the gender dimension of the disease.


Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Prevention Officer Jovesa Saladoka says if efforts to curb the spread of HIV in the Pacific are to succeed, strategies on HIV must include gender equality.

 

Mr Saladoka made the comments in relation to the theme of this year’s commemoration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August 2009) – Indigenous Peoples and HIV/AIDS.

The commemoration of this day aims to strengthen international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in areas including culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.

 

The failure to address the gender dimension in the Pacific early on in the epidemic has contributed, to a certain extent, to the spread of the disease Mr Saladoka says.

 

‘New cases being recorded in the Pacific are showing a higher level of risk and vulnerability for women,’ he says. ‘Most women who get the disease have been infected by their husbands or long-term partners. So an issue that particularly needs to be reinforced amongst men is responsible behaviour. Men can explore how they can create a culturally-friendly level playing field where everyone affected is empowered enough to be able to make a choice.’

 

Mr Saladoka believes that if gender issues are addressed adequately then situations where a significant percentage of the population has been infected, which has major social and economic implications on communities, can be avoided.

 

He says gender components of HIV prevention and control must include gender equality and the social and economic empowerment of women.

 

The lack of women’s enjoyment of the right to equality manifests itself in areas such as sexual health, where many women do not have the authority to influence the use of condoms. While the female condom may go some way toward empowering women to make decisions about their sexual health, the public’s attitudes with regard to acceptability of this condom, which is relatively new, are yet to be seen.

SPC Human Development Adviser (Gender Equality) Treva Braun says gender-based violence is another manifestation of gender inequality that needs particular attention in efforts to combat HIV.

 

‘Inequality between women and men has major adverse impacts not only on women but on whole communities. Amongst other things it makes women vulnerable to sexual violence, which in addition to violating their basic human rights puts them at risk of contracting HIV. Entire societies are suffering the consequences,’ Ms Braun says. ‘Unless the underlying attitudes and inequalities that allow gender-based violence to occur are understood and addressed, controlling HIV infection will remain a major challenge.’

Additional factors in the Pacific that contribute to the spread of the epidemic include high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which increase the likelihood of contracting HIV; low condom use; lack of rights for certain vulnerable groups in some countries, including men who have sex with men and sex workers; lack of active engagement by leaders; and limited access to education, which subsequently limits access to information on HIV prevention or the ability to process that information by a significant proportion of the population in the Pacific.

 

For more information please contact Tione Chinula, Human Development Programme Advocacy and Communications Officer by phone: +687 26 01 57 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
   

 

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