World AIDS Day 2014: SEED Winners provide opportunities for affected women
For 26 years now, 1st December is World AIDS Day: people around the world join the fight against HIV and express their support for everybody living with the virus. To date, 39 million people have died from the epidemic and 78 million have become infected. People living with HIV are still left behind due to various reasons such as human rights violations, discrimination, limited access to treatment and services, criminalisation and gender-based inequalities and the aim of today’s World AIDS Day is to Close the Gap.
The gender dimension of AIDS
Worldwide around 50% of the 35 million people currently living with HIV are women, but in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 1 in 20 adults has the virus, 59% of the infected population are women. In particular young women, aged 15 to 24 years, are twice as likely as young men to live with HIV. Gender-based violence and lack of access to education, health services and social protection contribute to the disparities. Once infected with HIV, women often face a double stigma because of their gender and HIV. Women further tend to be responsible for taking care of HIV-positive family members and, due to unequal inheritance practices, women can lose their home and other possessions if their husbands die of AIDS.
Access to employment is strongly affected for people living with HIV; indeed, globally unemployment rates are more than three times higher than national unemployment rates, which is largely due to discrimination by employers and restrictive policies. While no gendered-data is available, HIV-positive women are expected to be hit the hardest due to gender differences in access to job markets. Furthermore, even if they are not directly infected, women with cases of HIV within their families generally take on the care and are consequently indirectly affected as they often lack time or means to follow an economic activity.
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) can play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges that HIV-positive and HIV-affected women face and empowering them, for instance by offering them employment, training and income. 2011 SEED Winner Project for producing edible mushroom spores from Rwanda illustrates clearly the positive impacts that small-scale social and environmental enterprises can have on the life of affected women.
Fighting HIV-related discrimination through growing mushrooms
Lead by the Association of Vulnerable Widows Affected and Infected by HIV and AIDS (AVVAIS), the enterprise Project for producing edible mushroom spores produces mushroom seeds in a laboratory. Cooperatives in rural areas are trained in the sustainable production of these mushrooms and receive access to markets through the enterprise, which sells their products to the catering industry, grocery stores and international customers.
The enterprise not only provides employment for HIV-affected women in its laboratory but also does so in rural areas. As members of the cooperatives, women are empowered to overcome three key challenges which are aggravated by the HIV epidemic, mainly due to unequal inheritance practices and social exclusion.
- access to land: mushrooms are high-yield crops requiring little land.
- access to finance: mushrooms are a short-cycle and profitable crop with limited capital needs.
- access to markets: the enterprise provides market access.
Through the work of this SEED Winner, HIV-affected women are able to improve their household income, overcome social stigmatisation and build their self-esteem.
Close the Gap
Much remains to be done in the fight against HIV, but in the past years, the numbers of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have declined, indicating slow but steady progress. SMMEs like the SEED Winner from Rwanda have and continue to make their own valuable contributions to Closing the Gap by creating economic opportunities for HIV-infected as well as affected women and their families.