International Women’s Day 2013: Empowering Women Living with HIV

Celebrate International Women’s Day with almost one million Indian women living with HIV.  (Photo © 2012 Prashant Panjiar for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

Celebrate International Women’s Day with almost one million Indian women living with HIV. (Photo © 2012 Prashant Panjiar for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

International Women’s Day was first officially observed in 1911 and remains an annual opportunity to call for change and celebrate the many acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who play an extraordinary role in the world’s future.

It’s hardly been three months since India came to a standstill after the gruesome gang rape in New Delhi. The incident generated national and international attention and was condemned in India and abroad. It has left us determined to find answers to difficult but basic questions: Are India’s women really safe, both inside and outside their homes? Can they celebrate their freedom? How can we ensure that all women are able to pursue their dreams?

Over the years, considerable effort has gone into social, political and economic empowerment of women, but progress has been too slow. For women living with HIV (WLHIV) in India, the challenges are multiple. These women encounter daily stigma & discrimination and face barriers to accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care as well as sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. WLHIV often lack status and decision-making power and have inadequate control over financial resources and limited mobility to travel to find better jobs. Even today, laws and policies impede their access to health care and other services.

Though the sexual reproductive health and rights of people living with HIV (PLHIV) remain largely unrealized in this country, India HIV/AIDS Alliance is working to address some of the issues faced by WLHIV through our Koshish Project. With financial support from European Commission, Koshish affirms the principles of empowerment and partnership as core strategies to tackle the problems faced by these women, including stigma & discrimination, inaccessibility and non-availability of services and the lack of comprehensive SRH for PLHIV.

Through partners in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu including PLHIV networks in these states, Koshish works with providers and decision-makers to help make barrier-free services available and formulate sensitive and progressive policies for PLHIV and key populations. Programme partners have proactively engaged these stakeholders to advocate for quality SRH services. Advocacy has focussed on issues like maternal health services for WLHIV, cervical cancer screening, quality counselling and increased awareness of SRH and rights.

It is a now time for us to look ahead and celebrate the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women including WLHIV. As we enjoy the song One Woman  to be released by UN on this International Women’s Day, let us dedicate our time and resources and pledge our commitment to WLHIV by mobilizing and empowering them and jointly advocating for their rights and needs in India and all over the world.

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The author of this post, Kumkum Pal, is Programme Officer for Alliance India’s Koshish programme.

Alliance India works closely with PLHIV in India through its Koshish programme which aims to strengthen civil society organisations and networks that represent and work with PLHIV and other marginalised groups, such as MSM, transgenders, sex workers and IDUs, to effectively advocate for policies to improve the sexual & reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of PLHIV in India. This project is funded by the European Commission and is implemented in partnership with MAMTA, PWDS, VMM and CHETNA, along with state-level networks for PLHIV in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

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