Gender and HIV in the Caribbean

Published: Monday | December 19, 2011 Comments 0
From left: Roberta Clarke and Patricia Watson share a light moment during the panel discussion: Understanding gender relations as a driver of the HIV pandemic in Jamaica. - Colin Hamilton/Freelance Photographer
From left: Roberta Clarke and Patricia Watson share a light moment during the panel discussion: Understanding gender relations as a driver of the HIV pandemic in Jamaica. - Colin Hamilton/Freelance Photographer

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the gender dimension of the HIV pandemic in the Caribbean, took centre stage at a two-day workshop hosted by the Bureau of Women's Affairs and UNDP at the Knutsford Court hotel last week.

The women and few men in the room all had one thing in common - they were actively involved in the fight against the disease, and women's rights.

Programme director of the Caribbean office of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, Roberta Clarke, noted that, "Gender equality is key in the HIV pandemic."

She noted that 50 per cent of all persons globally who are infected with the disease are women, though the consequences are different for each gender. The disclosure was made at the start of the first panel discussion of the day, which focused on understanding the unequal relations as a driver of the HIV epidemic in Jamaica.

On the panel was Pat Donald, gender specialist on the National HIV programme. She noted that though the greater rate of transmission is in heterosexual relationships, the next 1,000 cases may be in homosexual relationships.

Power struggle

She noted that gender also plays a role in these relationships, as one partner usually takes on the identity of one sex. In all types of relationships, it's a power struggle, and the one with the power usually makes the decision in condom negotiations.

Another area of growing concern was HIV-positive adolescent mothers. Patricia Watson, executive director of Eve for Life, presented case studies of some of the teenage mothers her organisation works with. In most cases, these teenagers, with little or no knowledge on HIV/AIDS, are forced into sexual relationships by adults in which they are further victimised and powerless to make certain decisions, especially relating to sex.

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