Friday, 2 December 2011

WOMEN, CLIMATE CHANGE AND HIV/AIDS

BY: MAGGIE .M. MWAPE
Women and girls are said to bear the brunt of climate change. This is partly because; in many countries they make up the majority of the agricultural workforce hardest hit in the environmental crisis. They often do not have control of their lives and access to as many opportunities to generate income as men. Women are more likely to be poor and to see their poverty increase. This poverty consequently renders women and girls more vulnerable to HIV, as they do not have the ability to negotiate for safe sex. Then there is issue for transactional sex which usually comprises unequal power dynamics usually between the girls and the men paying for sex. Numerous examples of extreme climate change can be found, from melting glaciers in Bolivia, to the destruction of crops by typhoons in the Philippines, and from drought to floods in east, southern Africa and Vietnam. In each scenario, women are shown struggling to keep their livelihoods and families intact, and, in some cases, fighting for their lives.
Empowering women and girls, especially through investments in health and education, helps boost economic development and reduce poverty, thus having a beneficial impact on coping with climate change. Educated girls are more likely to protect themselves against HIV and to have smaller and healthier families as adults. In general, access to reproductive health services such as family planning means lower birth rates and this has a clear bearing on lessening the potential impact of environmental crises and making sustainable development more likely.
The linkage between HIV and the environment needs to be explored further. Recent scholar has documented transactional or “survival” sex as an alternative livelihood strategy. Indeed, in some cultural settings, sex‐based trade is viewed as normative and not simply about survival, but rather about achieving a particular standard of living, commensurate with the perceived commodities of modernity (Leclerc‐Madlala 2004).   

Our particular concern is the potential for the “environmental scarcity‐risky sex linkage” to operate in areas of high HIV prevalence.  Risky sexual behaviour in most regions is clearly linked to increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS.  Therefore, risky sexual behaviours may pose serious risk at the individual level while also further fuelling the pandemic.

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