Women are facing devastating impact of HIV/AIDS in world over. In India women are already economically, culturally and socially disadvantaged lacking access to treatment, financial support and education. They are outside the structures of power and decision -making.
They lack the opportunity of participating equally within the community and are subjected to punitive laws, norms and practices exercising control over their bodies and sexual relations. They are perceived as the main transmitters of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) referred generally as women diseases. The traditional beliefs about sex, blood and other type of disease transmission, these perceptions have become fertile ground for the stigmatization of women within the context of HIV/AIDS. Consider these facts:
Women are increasingly infected with HIV/AIDS than infected men. Women are being infected significantly at a younger age than men. Young girls in their teens and women in early twenties are becoming infected than women in any other age-group. Cultural norms favoring early marriages and early pregnancies or discouraging the use of condoms make women more vulnerable. Rape, sexual abuse and coercion, exchange of sex with older men for favours, sexual exploitation by teachers increasingly make women more vulnerable to HIV/SIDS. Among women alcohol and drugs are often linked to the exchange of sex for drugs or money increasing the risk of HIV. How does HIV/AIDS affect women?
The transmission of HIV infection in women is through the same routes as men. A small number of women become infected through artificial insemination from an infected person. Lesbians do get HIV/AIDS by using drugs, sharing needles and sharing sex toys with an infected partner without washing. Infected women transmit the infection to their unborn babies during pregnancy, birth and breast -feeding. Misconceptions:
•Withdrawal during intercourse. •Douching •Birth control pills and diaphragm does not protect from being infected with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS and Pregnancy An important biological difference between men and women that leads to additional social and cultural consequences with regard to HIV/AIDS is that women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies before, during and after birth. This type of transmission is called vertical transmission. Only a minority of children gets infected during early pregnancy. Most infected infants acquire their infection during delivery when the infant exposed to large amount of infected maternal blood and secretions. Transmission of HIV/AIDS through breastfeeding poses a substantial additional risk of infection. Reasons why women do not seek treatment include
•Low self esteem and abusive relationship. •Fear of being recognized and ostracized from the community. •Distrust in health care system. •Partner’s failure to disclose status. •Women are restricted by household responsibilities and lack of mobility. •There is restricted access to prescribed treatment due to poverty. •Women oriented health services do not include STD related services. •Services that only focus on STD treatment carry a greater stigma than integrated services.
Empowering Women Women have the right to say ‘NO’ to unsafe sex and to share needle and syringes. •Insisting the male partner to use condom always for sex. •To have sex with one partner who they know is not infected with HIV/AIDS and who is not engaging in high risk behaviour. •To have regular sexual health care checkups to prevent STDs. •To use sterile needle and syringe each time to inject.
•Finding a way to talk to the partner about HIV/AIDS prevention helps to feel good about the relationship. Women need counseling on reproductive health issues, family planning and safe infant feeding. There is a need for active networking for comprehensive healthcare and social support for positive women and their family. Pregnant women and infants should be tested who are in high-risk category. There should be rapid assessment for anti-retro viral therapy. Other supportive treatments should be given side-by-side for their rehabilitation.