HIV is a virus which causes the Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome a condition in which human immune system falls or literally breaks down leading to the body becoming susceptible to opportunistic infections such as the tuberculosis and other infectious diseases (Anon, 2001). About 40 million people around the world are infected by the virus with 50% of those being women. In the United States, though more men are infected by the disease, about 300,000 women are living with the disease.
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From the year 2000 to 2004, the cases of women infected with the virus rose by about 10%. With infections among women rising, experts have tried to analyze why women are more vulnerable to this disease than men. They have explained among other factors, physical and anatomical differences places women in higher risk of contracting the virus than men. For example the mucosal lining of the vagina offers a large surface area for exposure to the seminal fluid which may be infected thus making women more susceptible.
In the anatomy while having intercourse the vagina is very susceptible to tears and irritations when engaging in sex and thus with the tears and the irritations the exposed flesh offers a good penetrating surface of the virus to the woman’s body. Gender inequities are other factors that make women more vulnerable in that traditionally women are not free to refuse sex or insist on safe sex with their male partners.
Men usually take the control over the woman when it comes to sex matters. These among other factors make women more vulnerable to HIV & AIDS infection (Chikoki, 2010). When one is infected with the virus, either male or female there are negative results for example death of a loved one, divorces and even being disowned by those that one is left with. The disease makes the victim weak and as statistics show in the sub-Saharan Africa the effects are worse than people think as quoted below (Nolan & Aid, 2009),
With 60% of all deaths recorded in sub-Saharan Africa between the 20 to 49 year old age brackets. Although most diseases undermine economic development and usually affect the poor disproportionately, HIV and AIDS is uniquely damaging because it is primarily concentrated among adults in their most economically productive years” (pg 156).
The disease is more prevalent in the active and able bodied members of the society thereby robbing the society the much needed manpower.
This study will try to cover the impacts which this disease has on women.
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The impact of HIV and AIDS epidemics on women
HIV and AIDS impact on women has become one of the most critical reproductive concerns in the 20th and 21st century. Evidence from sub-Sahara Africa shows that women make up 59% of adults living with the disease while women from the age of 15 to 24 having also a higher probability of between 2 to 6 higher times of getting infected compared to men of the same age. The combination of biological, economic, and cultural factors exposes more women to HIV and AIDS compared to men (Ashford, 2009).
Increased working hours for women
When a woman loses her husband and is left behind with the main role of taking care of her family , in trying to provide the basic needs for her famility, she will tend to work for longer hours in which most of the times the activities they are involved in arefinding for consummables. Since the resources are few and the needs ever increasing most of the time these women are unable to invest in any other field and this resuluts to the kids being exposed to harsh life full of abject poverty.
In societies where women are more dependant on men e.g. in most of African communities a death of a husband leads to reduced household income due to the limited sources of income and this leads to reduced ability for one to support her family. In case the woman is infected also, and the husband is already dead, her ability to support and work to provide for the family coupled with the treatment and medical care costs leads to even more higher level of poverty since there is no where to source for extra funds. As noted by Bollinger, Stover & Nalo (1999) the extent of household income lost is very high as evidence shows.
In Kenya a study showed that small rural households lost a very high percentage of between 58-78 percent of income following the death of an economically active adult (p 4).
A loss of 78% of income is very high and may force the woman to seek other unethical ways of supporting her family for example by engaging in prostitution.
Women are faced with few options for providing for their families thus after infection with the HIV Virus, it becomes much worse and the woman may be unable to support her family due to the failing health and the ever increasing needs. Thus, most of the times these women may turn to prostitution as they try to provide the basic needs for their families increasing the risk of HIV even more if they are not infected. This is as evidenced in Ethiopia where due to lack of support many resorted to prostitution (Bollinger, Stover & Seyoum, 1999).
In other places after the death of a husband women and girls do not continue with their education so as to take care of the sick as noted in most places girls leave school earlier that boys to take care of their sick parents.
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Infected women suffer from depression, anxiety. The feelings of anxiety are caused by the fact that the disease they are suffering from is associated with lack of control of the indeterminable course of the illness. After the initial diagnosis the woman may suffer from the feelings of marginalization, rejection, and blame due to the illness. There are many worries related to the sickness and this exposes her to many psychological problems (Medrano, 2008). In most communities women living with AIDS are stigmatized and this may result in even premature deaths due to stress and depression associated with the disease.
Property and Inheritance Rights
When a young family loses one of their loved ones it is usually a devastating situation. But problems seem never to cease when it comes to a woman being left behind by her husband. In most of traditional cultures women are not entitled and are also not included in the property ownership and inheritance due to cultural, social, and other factors. most of the times the in-laws confiscates her husband properties and sometimes even disowns her and sends her back to her parents. For example in Ethiopia, women are faced by various problems and with the AIDS prevalence going up every day, women’s lack of access to land and other assets sometimes pushes them to risky livelihoods (Ashenafi & Tadesse, 2005).
The Burden Of Care Giving
Inequalities are very prevalent in cases of HIV. Traditionally the burden of taking care is placed on the women thus even in case of boy girl child you will find at most instances girls leave school earlier than their brothers to assist in household chores and family income support. This leaves women with more burden of taking care of the ailing loved ones and even taking care of the family incase the children are orphaned.
Cultures are good but not all are good with the present world conditions and the emergence of new and killing diseases such as AIDS. In some culture the practice of women inheritance still continues and as evidence from Uganda shows, women are faced with the risk of losing all the rights to use land incase the husband dies or being brought into a relationship with the late husbands brother or otherwise return to their maternal home (Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa).
Another case in western Kenya as reported by the Washington post by Buckley (1997) reports of a woman whose husband died after infecting him with the virus, as their culture rules the woman was then inherited by the brother of the husband. Two years later the brother to the husband died after being infected by the same woman with the virus another one still stands on the line. This shows even if the disease is very serious some cultures if not abandoned the spread of this deadly disease is not going to stop any soon and more people will continue to die.
Though traditionally women headed households were not a common phenomena, with the AIDS pandemic more and more female headed households are emerging thus it can be said the disease is having an impact on women’s culture that though in the past women depended on their husbands with the emergence of HIV and AIDS we should expect more female headed households. In the western part of Kenya, households encourage the marriages of young girls in order to cope with the loss and have access to money paid during the bride price pay for the upkeep for her yuonger siblings.This is too harsh on the girl child since chances of continued education are cut short thus reducing chances of self reliance in future (CHGA).
AIDS pandemic among women has also brought the rise to women movements which fights for the rights of HIV positive women by providing a platform in which they can air their voices and be involved in decision making process rather than being neglected and stigmatized because of the virus. One such organization is the UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund For Women), which gives them the technical support to increase and make sure HIV- positive women are involved in decision making and also involved in works that safeguard their inheritance and property rights even after their husbands die (UNIFEM, 2010).
The choices of jobs in which women can do are few. This fact increases their economic vulnerability and reliance on men increases their chances of contracting HIV. The poverty among women reduces the chances of a woman ability to negotiate for safe sex. This implies that because of AIDS, poorer women become economically weak and less secure hence they are often deprived of inheritances and reliable health care. Purchase of medicines worsens the scenario and most families are forced to sell out their assets in order to cover for the medical expenses (Yamuna, n.d). It should be noted that women are among the world’s poor.
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Decline in Fertility Rates
In along period, African women were known to have the highest fertility rates with an average of 6 children but through contraception, absistence and natural fecundity among other factors, the fertility rate has declined due to delayed onset of sexual relationships. HIV infected women are going through reduced pregnancy rates due to the fact that HIV reduced induces sterility and decreases chances of having sex due to the fear of infections.
Evidence from the Sub Sahara shows that the region has experienced drastic fertility declines “With countries like Ghana falling from 7.2 to 4.5 and Kenya from 8 to 4.6” ( Ntozi, pg1, 2002)
The graph below is an evident case in Uganda showing the declined fertility as a result of AIDS; the graph compares the infected and non infected women in a district called Masaka. it shows the extent at which the infected women fertility levels has reduced. The reduced fertility levels among the infected women are brought about due to the fear of giving birth to an infected child who will not be able to live for long. The reduced fertility rate can also be explained by the fact that once one is detected with the virus she might be exposed to stigimatization or even the fera of spreading the disease to those who are not infected.
From the study we can conclude that women face more risks of being infected with HIV and AIDS due to their anatomical differences and also due to cultures and social obligations demanded from thhem. There is a need to help women overcome these challenges for them to lead an AIDS free life.
The fact that the challenges women face are diverse and multifaceted, to support those already infected and to stop the disease from spreading further, the society should create opportunities to have access to information and counseling in order to enhance quality and stress free life among the infected. Cultures which make the spread of HIV and AIDS should also be abandoned. Women should be given power to control their bodies when it comes to sex with their male partners and they should economically be empowered soas to be able to negotiate for sex rather than being forced by their partners in order for their needs to be fulfilled.
Finally, our governments should take responsibility to provide healthcare to every citizen, mobilize awareness campaigns on prevention care and treatment of AIDS because the disease is taking away millions lives and countries wont be able to advance without the manpower(Mahmood & Ahmed, 2004). If you are not infected you are affected thus it is a call to everyone to fight the virus and for those who are infected we should take care of them and not stigimatize them.
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