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HIV/AIDS, Gender, and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

AUTHOR

Anandita Philipose

CITATION

Anandita Philipose (2007). Case Study #3-1, "HIV/AIDS, Gender, and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa". In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), "Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies." 14 pp.
URL: http://cip.cornell.edu/dns.gfs/1200428152

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

HIV/AIDS continues to spread across the world at a rapid rate, with close to 5 million new HIV infections in 2006 alone. Sub-Saharan Africa, the worst-affected region, is home to two-thirds of all adults and children with HIV globally. Southern Africa is the epicenter of the epidemic—one-third of all people with HIV globally live there and 34 percent of all deaths due to AIDS in 2006 occurred there (UNAIDS 2006). This case study examines the spread of the epidemic and its impact on food insecurity through a gender lens.

The UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic (2004) warned that one of the biggest challenges of the coming years is "the female face of the epidemic" (p. 3). Globally, and in every region, more adult women (15 years or older) than ever before are now living with HIV (UNAIDS 2006). Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said that women are more vulnerable to the disease because of both biological factors (female genitalia are more susceptible to the disease than male genitalia) and sociocultural factors affecting sexual practices (Sopova 1999). The 17.7 million women living with HIV in 2006 represented an increase of more than 1 million compared with 2004. Across all age groups, 59 percent of people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2006 were women (UNAIDS 2006).

Women face a double threat. First, women have less access to accurate information about AIDS and, usually, even less power to enforce prevention techniques such as the use of condoms during sex. Second, women bear the brunt of the epidemic because they are responsible for taking care of sick relatives. Girls often drop out of school, lose jobs, and face stigma and discrimination when they care for HIV-infected relatives and friends (Sopova 1999).

Furthermore, women form the backbone of the agricultural labor force in Sub-Saharan Africa, and their vulnerability to the disease is associated with a drop in agricultural productivity and a deepening of the food insecurity endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa (FAO 2005). The UNAIDS report of 2005 stated that the epidemic is increasing labor bottlenecks in agriculture, increasing malnutrition, and adding to the burden on rural women. HIV/AIDS aggravates tenure insecurity owing to gendered power relations, population pressure, and stigmatization. The effect of the epidemic on women also affects the quality of life of the survivors of the epidemic, since women are normally the providers of care and prepare the meals consumed by other members of the household.

The effect of HIV/AIDS on food security is progressive, because the virus not only aggravates household food insecurity, but also spreads faster when people are malnourished and forced to adopt more risky food-provisioning strategies owing to their worsening poverty (Gillespie and Kadiyala 2005). Thus a vicious circle progressively worsens the conditions of people who are food insecure to start with.

Given the rapid spread of the epidemic, increasing food insecurity, and increasing gender inequalities in Sub-Saharan Africa, your assignment is to recommend policies that will enhance awareness of HIV/AIDS among all groups, reduce women's vulnerability to the disease, and improve food security.

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