In addition to being more physiologically and socially vulnerable to infection, women also disproportionately suffer the epidemic’s negative effects. As the primary caregivers in Africa and other regions, women have seen their household and community burdens grow as a result of HIV, often compromising their health, their ability to generate income, and other markers of well-being. Women account for two thirds of all caregivers for people living with HIV in Africa (Secretary-General’s Task Force, 2004).

Women who are widowed as a result of HIV are at high risk of becoming destitute as a result of legal regimes that fail to recognize or protect women’s right to inherit property.

Measures to expand women’s economic opportunities

Among low-income women in Africa, those having some type of formal or informal work are less likely to die than those who lack work. Accordingly, increasing women’s financial options helps to mitigate some of the epidemic’s most harmful effects. Microfinance initiatives are frequently cited as a possible means to empower women by increasing their economic independence. A randomized controlled trial of a microfinance initiative in the Philippines recently found that access to a microsavings account improved women’s decision-making within the household, enhanced their self-perception of savings behaviour, and positively affected actual consumption of durable goods.

In one of the most extensive studies of womenfocused microfinance initiatives, researchers examined the impact of an intervention that combined microfinance with participatory
training on HIV infection, gender norms, domestic violence, and sexuality. Although no impact on HIV incidence was observed, the combined microfinance initiative was associated
with a reduction of more than half of physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner. The study also found significant improvements across a broad range of qualitative indicators of

To make microfinance feasible, initiatives should address transport and literacy barriers that many women confront in accessing financial assistance. In addition, microfinance programmes should include community-based work with men, to address traditional gender norms and the resistance of some men to women-focused financial assistance.

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