Gender, AIDS and Development in Southern Africa

I’m heading to South Africa and Zambia to look at innovative programs that link gender, AIDS, and development. While PEPFAR is not designed to fund development programs, there is a growing recognition that U.S. HIV/AIDS funding must link with the broader development agenda. Given the high HIV infection rates among women and girls in southern Africa, I am going to investigate how HIV/AIDS funding can be linked to aspects of the development agenda to address the structural, societal factors that shape women and girls’ risk of HIV infection and complicate their situations once infected. Key linkages with the development arena include family planning and reproductive health as an essential component of HIV/AIDS services, and education for girls and economic empowerment for women as HIV prevention strategies.

southafricaBy meeting with a range of people involved in these programs, including the implementers as well as the women and girls who participate in the programs, I hope to learn about the opportunities and challenges presented by integrated programs, and to develop recommendations about how U.S. HIV/AIDS funding can be leveraged to encourage more innovative programmatic responses and place the AIDS crisis within the context of broader development.

My first stop will be Limpopo Province, South Africa, where I’ll be visiting the Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS & Gender Equity (IMAGE), designed for rural women. IMAGE combines microfinance with gender and HIV training, focusing on reducing gender-based violence and HIV prevention. In addition to the microfinance component, which is implemented by a South African NGO called the Small Enterprise Foundation, IMAGE has integrated a program called “Sister for Life” into the loan repayment meetings. Topics include gender roles, cultural beliefs, self-esteem, communication, domestic violence and HIV, and the program involves extensive community mobilization to engage men, women and young people in the villages.

Documentation produced by IMAGE researchers has shown some impressive results in the areas of economic well-being, empowerment, and reductions in intimate partner violence and HIV risk behavior. I’m looking forward seeing the program up close and learning directly from the rural women who participate in the program.

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