Global Resources

Gender, Poverty, and Intergenerational Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS

Author: M. Kamal Smith
Publisher: Oxfam
Publication Date: Jan 2002
Older women and young girls in developing countries are likely to be affected by HIV/AIDS, but tend to fall outside the boundaries of mainstream development research and practice on HIV/AIDS. This article explores the reasons for the lack of attention given to these groups and identifies what steps are needed to ensure their needs are also met. Gender and development work, in relation to HIV/AIDS, has tended to focus on men and women of reproductive age. Yet new studies reveal extremely high levels of infections among young girls, partly because their sexual partners are often older men who offer them rewards in return for sex, and are more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS than young men. At the same time, even though there are few statistics on the impacts of HIV/AIDS on older women, it is clear that they are affected in several ways. Lack of attention to the sexual health needs of this group of women make them more vulnerable to infection, while the stigma of HIV/AIDS and the expense of medical treatment mean they are often the last to seek health care. A major challenge for both the very young and the very old is the huge problem of caring for the orphans left behind after their parents die of AIDS. Grandmothers, who are traditionally supported by their children, often become the primary carers for these children. This necessitates that they earn income, and/or work on the land to produce food for the family. The article recommends that campaigns to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS have to go beyond the simple message of using condoms, and address deep-rooted gender inequality, in addition to encouraging the participation of the very young and the very old.