Entrenched gender inequality burdens and tearingly debilitates girls and women when afflicted by HIV and AIDS, particularly in the lower socio-economic strata, restricting their access to social and economic resources and even the necessary support services. It has implications on a girl’s education. It has implications on her economic opportunities and it implies stigma and discrimination. The stigma and discrimination is definitely greater for women than men.
There are several studies that conclude how poverty compels women to exchange money for sex and goods thereby placing them at a high risk for contracting HIV-AIDS. All over the world, governments have focussed on policies to raise awareness and particularly address and mitigate concerns that spill beyond the health sector. And yet, the magnitude of the problem continues and the burden is borne most heavily by the female gender.
I would like to now narrate a story of how recently I met a woman who had tested positive for HIV. Perhaps because I was not known to her and perhaps because she did not feel much threatened by me, she opened up to me. She lives in self imposed isolation, in fear and only one or two people know about this. I was appalled and shocked by her ‘resignation to her fate’ and how in this day and age she appeared worried about trivia like stigma and discrimination. She said to me ‘ It is hard being a woman. Whatever the times and however modern and progressive we are.’ She said there were a multitude of things she needed to think of and she did not want to restrict her access to any of the social and economic opportunities that she currently has. To this I exclaimed that she needed support and help and isolating herself and pretending normalcy would not help. She replied ‘ Learn to live in society, Learn to be pragmatic. You are not going to make a difference. And particularly because you are a woman.’ My mind was in a turmoil for long after this. I compared her with a friend of mine who recently died of cancer and thought how vast the difference was! My friend had friends and family to support her all throughout. It made me think life was not fair and that things do not need to be this way. It made me think, does a woman from a much poorer background stand a chance at all then? While we talk big. Here was a woman from a more affluent strata very much living in fear and particularly mentioning about the burden of being a woman. So what chance of education, support and acceptance by society does a woman with a poorer background have?
When are we going to open our eyes and make life worth living for everyone? What are we doing to remove such entrenched gender inequality which does not appear to spare her even when she is ill?
By Anusmita Baruah