Cultural and religious factors blamed for HIV risk in women

by Robert Tapfumaneyi (HAZ Staff Writer)

Harare – The Minister of Women’s Affair, Gender and Community Development, Dr. Olivia Muchena has blamed cultural and religious practices for limiting  the access of women and girls in Zimbabwe to HIV counseling and testing, as well as Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) services, stating that these practices place the women and girls at a disproportionate risk of contracting HIV.

Minister Muchena was speaking at the launch of the Zimbabwe Accelerated Agenda Country Plan and Work Plan on Women and Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in Harare last week on September 16th.

The Minister said some of these practices include polygamy, spousal inheritance, ngozi (ie;the traditional belief and practice of appeasing avenging spirits), chiramu or sibale (a mock marriage cultural practice where a young sister–in-law can be fondled in a practice that can lead to sexual intercourse), sex as a cure for HIV, and property inheritance.

“An effective response for women and girls must improve their access to quality HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, addressing the structural drivers of vulnerability and risk for women and girls and mitigating the impact of the epidemic” said Dr. Muchena.

Minister Muchena added that some negative religious practices also contribute to exposing women to HIV as some sects promote early marriage of girls and young women, to older men who are already in polygamous unions.

Speaking at the same occasion the Deputy Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr. Douglas Mombeshora said through concerted efforts from all fronts, Zimbabwe has made great strides towards achievement of universal access targets but still remains below the targets, particularly in the area of treatment and care.

“Although we have quite a wide array of HIV prevention services, sadly very few of these are women-oriented, and as a matter of necessity and empowerment of women, we need to expand HIV prevention services that target women, and the recently concluded National AIDS Conference has reiterated our commitment to reduce new HIV infections through virtual elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission”, said Dr. Mombeshora.

“With the support from the Global Fund, multi-lateral and bi-lateral partners and other donors, there is hope of achieving universal access to treatment targets in the short term,” added Dr. Mombeshora.

The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development in conjunction with National AIDS Council conducted a “Know Your Epidemic/Know Your Response” survey and identified the modes of HIV transmission among women and girls.

The study identified several socio-economic, cultural and religious factors that increase women’s vulnerability in Zimbabwe.

The purpose of the Zimbabwe Accelerated Agenda Country Plan and Work Plan on Women and Girls, Gender Equality and HIV is to address the gender inequalities and human rights violations that put women and girls at greater risk of, and make them more vulnerable to HIV.  The action plan will run from 2011 to 2015.

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