The Huairou Commission’s thematic work on HIV/AIDS bridges the gap between what is happening in communities and what happens at the policy level by ensuring that grassroots women leading the fight against HIV/AIDS in their communities are represented in decision-making spaces.
The Huairou Commission promotes an HIV/AIDS response that fully recognizes and integrates development contributions from grassroots women, specifically home-based caregivers. Women’s home-based caregiving groups provide holistic solutions to the challenges of HIV/AIDS by addressing issues such as access to basic services, land rights, housing conditions and food security. Through Huairou’s HIV/AIDS work, the innovations, knowledge and experience of grassroots women are promoted and caregivers are supported to conduct action research. Through the community mapping process, caregivers collect data on affected people in their neighborhood and use their findings to better lobby for resources and support for their communities. Groups and networks of home-based caregivers engage with policymakers and insert their voices into policy at the local level through the application of Local to Local Dialogues, and at the international level at global events focused on HIV/AIDS.
Advancing recognition and resources for caregivers is central to Huairou’s HIV/AIDS work. “Care and Support” is recognized as one of the three pillars of Universal Access — goals agreed to by UN Member states and agencies to address HIV/AIDS worldwide. Yet it is regularly left out of policy dialogues and resource discussions. Huairou works to ensure that caregivers and the issues of care and support receive their deserved attention.
The Severe Effects of HIV/AIDS on WomenThe HIV/AIDS pandemic has revealed deep inequalities over its 30 year history, including its devastating impact on the world’s women. In 2009, 50% of people living with HIV/AIDS were women, while in sub-Saharan Africa women account for approximately 60% of HIV infections. Women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of power inequalities in relationships, but they are also more affected by the impacts of HIV/AIDS. Socioeconomic, cultural and political power disparities, and the burden of care placed on women, contribute to this imbalance. Despite their contributions to their households, women are often dependent upon men for income and assets that translate to long-term security. Women and children are often left vulnerable after the deaths of their husbands and fathers, and women in violent relationships are more at risk for HIV/AIDS infection and less likely to leave without their own income or assets.
Grassroots Women in Africa Responded to HIV/AIDS Before It Was Even IdentifiedFor grassroots women, HIV/AIDS entered their homes and communities as a mysterious sickness that demanded a response. Existing health systems could not absorb the volume of ill people, and women began caring for their husbands, children, parents, friends, neighbors and widows and orphans left behind. Without attention and usually without outside support, they became home-based caregivers. Home-based caregivers provide palliative care and psychosocial counseling, while also initiating locally appropriate and culturally sensitive stigma-reduction and awareness raising campaigns. They also link people to other services including clinics and hospitals, mortuaries, and feeding programs, and to resources such as bursary funds for orphans and other community development funds.
HIV/AIDS Encompasses All Aspects of Daily Life
Home-based caregivers know that access to basic services, sanitation, transportation, land and housing, livelihoods, food security and governance are all interconnected in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, the majority of funded HIV/AIDS work focuses on treatment and medical research, further marginalizing the women administering treatments and distracting from the importance of development in the context of HIV/AIDS.