Gender and AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa
08 August 2007
Empowerment of women and promotion of gender equality were underlined as critical to reducing vulnerability to HIV in the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] at a recent gathering of experts from the region.
Specialists working in the areas of HIV and gender joined at a think tank meeting on “Gender and HIV in the Middle East and North Africa”, organized by the UNAIDS Regional Support Team MENA in Cairo, Egypt.
As the HIV epidemic in the MENA region continues to spread, the number of women living with HIV is increasing and the gap in prevalence rates among men and women is narrowing. Participants at the meeting agreed that gender inequalities across the region help fuel vulnerability and increase exposure to HIV infection. “Gender inequalities is and must be at the core of our national AIDS responses ,” said Fouzia Abdallah, the National AIDS Programme manager of Yemen.
Traditions and the role of religion were widely discussed by participants. The Minister of Family
Affairs and Social Development in North West Somalia, Fadume Haji Adam, gave an opening address looking at specific cultural and religious traditions in the region that have an impact on women and girls in the context of HIV.
“In our traditions lie our challenges, and it is also there we will find the solutions,” she said.
Adapting strategies on gender and AIDS to fit the regional context was highlighted as fundamental to a successful response. Giving examples of how AIDS responses have failed to adequately address the situation of Muslim women, Dr Nafisa Mohamed Abdelkarim from Afhad University for Women in Sudan, called for a deeper understanding of the contexts in which many women and girls in the region find themselves“:
“ We cannot adopt an international agenda on gender and AIDS, we must develop our own agenda. We have to find our own solutions and strategies,” she said.
Often, our women do not make individual choices. They make their decisions within their social contexts. Our responses to AIDS have to address these contexts, and not only the individuals. We have to make AIDS our agenda, with a language and with interventions that speak to us and our situations ,” she added.
The meeting brought together people from some of the most conflict-affected areas in the world. A key concern of participants was how to keep gender and AIDS high on an already full political and media agenda. “ The agenda is already full of immediate and emergency-related issues. At the same time, we can see how conflict situations increase vulnerability to HIV,” said Laila Baker, Assistant Representative for UNFPA, Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Rather than putting all our efforts in an emergency mode, we have to keep an eye on gender and AIDS in conflict situations. We can not afford ignoring such a crucial development issue ,” she added.
Building on this Think Tank meeting, the group identified key activities for moving forward, including reviewing national responses to AIDS in the context of gender, building capacity among national partners to further strengthen a gender-sensitive response, and mobilizing key ministries and partners to address gender and AIDS in the region.
More information on the Middle East and North Africa region