By Shantha Rau Barriga
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
A global conference on AIDS is taking place this week in Vienna, Austria, and Shantha Rau Barriga says the special vulnerabilities of women with disabilities must be kept on the agenda.
(WOMENSENEWS)--"I'm a woman with a disability. I am HIV-positive and I am on ARVs (antiretroviral drugs). My life is very hard."
These were the first words Immaculate, a 52-year-old landmine survivor in northern Uganda, said to me when I met her in May. "It took long for me to declare my status. I felt I should just die," she said.
Margaret is another Ugandan with HIV who also has an amputated leg from a landmine accident.
"I cannot bathe near others," she told me. "My neighbors think that the water that comes off of me has HIV in it. They say I will get the community sick if they touch the water. There has been HIV sensitization in the community but there is no real change in attitudes."
As government and U.N. leaders, HIV advocates and members of civil society gather in Vienna, Austria, this week for the International AIDS Conference, the needs of women such as Immaculate and Margaret must be given priority in the design, implementation and funding of HIV programs and policies.
At least 10 percent of the world's population--as many as 660 million people--have a disability, according to the United Nations.
People with disabilities have HIV infection rates up to three times higher than people without disabilities because of their risk of physical abuse, isolation, general poverty and lack of access to services and information, found a study by the World Bank and Yale University in 2004.
Yet few HIV programs are designed to serve people with disabilities and few disability programs incorporate HIV services.
People with disabilities and HIV face discrimination on many fronts; women with disabilities are especially vulnerable to HIV infection.
In many countries, women with disabilities are more likely to be sexually abused--men prey on them since they are perceived as less able to defend themselves or demand justice for sexual violence. Unfortunately, in many cases, these suppositions are true. Too often the barriers to justice faced by all women over sexual violence are even higher for women with disabilities.
Social stigma and the requirement for unwilling doctors to sign police complaints conspire to deter women with disabilities from pursuing these cases.
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