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National HIV and AIDS policy is gender insensitive
Linda Ncube, Matabeleland AIDS Council (MAC)
June 30, 2005 Meeting HIV Aids.htm

The National HIV and AIDS Policy is gender insensitive and gender oppressive. This summed up the opinions of the MS partners in the HIV and AIDS sector after a two day gender analysis of the policy. "It looks as if the policy was written by men commented the facilitator Moira Ngaru, a Gender consultant."The policy supports polygamy, cultural practices and makes no attempt to condemn commercial sex work" she noted.

Participants also noted that some of the language in the policy was still stigmatizing to people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHAs) where several sections refered to the "infected" instead of people living with HIV and AIDS. "How many men were at that meeting?" was the first question my colleagues at MAC asked me when I reported on this meeting. Well there were three (3) men out of twenty (20) participants, however they all seemed to agree on that the policy was outdated and needed amendments.

The participants noted that gender needs to be mainstreamed into all sections of the policy. They all agreed that Section 7 dealing with Gender should be removed as there is no need to have gender as a stand alone section. Even more worrying was the fact that the policy did not openly highlight the risk of cultural practices such as polygamy and wife inheritance.

"We should not look at the policy in isolation of the other laws in Zimbabwe" noted Fadzai Chatiza from Zimbabwe Women Lawyers. "There is a contradiction between the National HIV and AIDS policy and the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Section 23) which upholds customary law. Our constitution should be amended to include social and economic rights" she concluded. Participants noted that there was a need to look at and analyze other intersecting policies as well such as the National Gender policy, National policy on orphans, National Home Based Care policy, Education Policy, Health policy and Labour policy.

Section 6.7 referring to Commercial Sex Work does not make any attempt to condemn the practice and provide a solution. Participants felt that was a need to include a section on the rehabilitation of commercial sex workers which has been successfully done in Gweru (GWAPA), Marondera and Murambinda. There was also a need to include a section on public education for the commercial sex workers and their clients. "Technically the police should be able to arrest males for loitering and curb crawling" noted Thereza Mugadza, Lawyer/Consultant attending the meeting. Thereza also noted that Section 6.8 dealing with prisons should include "open prisons" where prisoners do community service. There is also need to add a clause on access to neviraphine for pregnant women in prisons as well as the rehabilitation of prisoners after they complete their sentence.

The group also noted that Section 5.2 dealing with Community Home Based Care (CHBC) did not acknowledge the major role that women played in home based care. There is need to train the caregivers in counselling and home based care skills. A clause should be added compelling more men to be involved in home based care. Support systems should be put in place for the caregivers who may experience "burn out" and need counselling.

Section 5 on Care for PLWHAs needs to be updated with clauses on opportunistic infection treatment and Antiretroviral medicines. The 4 As were stressed as in Affordable, Accessible, Available and Acceptable treatment for PLWHAs. The group felt that government should assist importers to access the ARVs as well as encourage the exchange of information between doctors and the traditional leadership. The importance of Nutrition in care of PLWHAs should also be added to this Section.

Surprisingly the group also felt that section 3 on Confidentiality should be amended and that mandatory testing of HIV will destroy the current stigma around HIV and AIDS. It was recommended that HIV and AIDS become a notifiable disease. There were competing rights in this section, that is the right to confidentiality versus the right to health and life. It was felt that there should be legal provision for disclosure of ones HIV status to ones partner.

The National AIDS Policy is also silent on the issue of child sexual abuse which needs to be added to Section 6 as well as the recognition that 93% of the survivors of sexual abuse are women and girls. In view of this Section 5.5 which refers to informed consent to HIV testing is a deterrent as many survivors of sexual abuse are under the age of 16 and have a right to Voluntary testing and Counselling (VCT) services. If women form 52% of Zimbabwes population and most women were in the rural areas, there is need for increased VCT centers in the rural areas.

In conclusion, Moira Ngaru noted that one should not just look at the National AIDS policy but also at the environment in which the policy operates. She noted that current environment in Zimbabwe is not supportive of the National AIDS Policy because the cultural norms and religious beliefs were prohibitive. The difficult economic environment made it difficult for women to negotiate for safer sex and there was need for stronger political will to implement the National HIV and AIDS policy and put it into action

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