Today, on World AIDS Day, we remember that this pandemic has been raging for nearly thirty years and has stolen more than 25 million lives. We remember that AIDS, particularly in Africa, is an increasingly feminized phenomenon, with women making up 59% of people living with HIV/AIDS on that continent. And we remember that HIV/AIDS does not exist in a vacuum and that it feeds off of the inequalities that marginalize communities around the world.
One story we recently heard from Sizani Ngubane--from our sister organization in South Africa, the Rural Women's Movement--illustrates this point. She told us of an 8-year-old girl who became an orphan when her parents died of AIDS. Her grandmother took her in, like so many other grandmothers in Africa who have lost their own adult children. But when her grandfather died, the laws that denied women the right to own land meant that her grandmother had no title to the home she had lived in for sixty years. She was evicted. Facing homelessness, the grandmother and the girl were able to find a place to stay with a distant male relative.
After four years, the grandmother made a horrible discovery--this relative had been sexually abusing her granddaughter for all that time. She took her granddaughter to a clinic, where they discovered that she was HIV+.
This tragic example shows some of the many interrelated factors, from poverty to lack of land rights, that impact women and their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. It also demonstrates that, as the AIDS pandemic decimates adult populations and creates millions of AIDS orphans, young girls are particularly at risk of violence and abuse. Sizani and the Rural Women's Movement are working to counter this, as they "advocate for women's independent land and property rights and...provide training on how to respond strategically to the AIDS pandemic," as written in the organization's mission statement. MADRE is proud to be partnering with Sizani and the Rural Women’s Movement in this important work.