WeNews: The preventitive measures of a new HIV gels is being met with mixed reactions. Some see the gel as an advance for women's control over their own protection, while others are concerned that it might be treated as a substitute remedy for an underlying and deeper social issue: women's lack of agency to negotiate condom use or other protection measures, and the need for the inclusion of women in HIV prevention and program design.
"Some advocates at last week's international AIDS Conference greeted news of hte results of an HIV gel cooly, saying more was needed than a "medicalized" response to an epidemic that travels a social pathway of infringed women's rights.
Women continue to carry the weight of the HIV epidemic, numerous advocacy groups said, noting that the proportion of women infected with HIV has been rising. Like many other women's advocates at the meeting, Bianco, an Argentinean feminist and member of Women ARISE, an international coalition of women's HIV networks, thinks women's problems negotiating safe sex and other HIV-AIDS preventions are intrinsically linked to the abrogation of their rights in other areas, such as land ownership, access to education and participation in politics.
Women still struggle to negotiate condom use, are vulnerable to sexual violence, often lack education and access to prevention information and when economically disadvantaged are more likely to use transactional sex or sex work to support themselves. All of these vulnerabilities heighten their risk of contracting HIV.
Part of the problem, according to a report published by UNIFEM at the conference, is that women are not included in the design and appraisal of HIV programs. "Positive women, in particular, are actually not involved in the response in a meaningful way," said Nazneen Damji, co-author of the report. At best, women are involved "tokenistically or formally" but are not empowered to be in leadership or decision-making roles. The report found a significant lack of documentation of women's participation as decision-makers in national and international HIV responses. One hundred women interviewed for the report cited barriers, including cultural factors and gender norms (79 percent) and economic disempowerment (58 percent) that prevented their full participation."