The fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS will not achieve the desired positive results unless young girls and vulnerable women are empowered economically to be self-reliant.
The National Agency for the Control of AIDS’ (NACA) Acting Director-General, Dr. Kayode Ogungbemi, stated this during an empowerment programme for 50 young girls and vulnerable women in Lagos.
The programme was organised by NACA, in collaboration with the Association of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (ASWHAM), and Tosin Anibaba Memorial (TAM) Fund. Ogungbemi, who is also NACA’s Director of Policy and Strategy, stressed that empowerment is key to stemming the tide of the virus.
“Globally, there are five pillars of preventions that are recognised in fighting HIV/AIDS. One of those pillars is targeting adolescent girls and young women with effective intervention, and such intervention include economic empowerment, use of condoms and for them to also meet as a group to discuss their sexual behaviours and the risk they take
“This is one example of such interventions. The essence of the empowerment is to transform the lives of these young girls and women that are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of their dependence on men and because of their inability to say no and make an informed decision when it comes to risky sexual behaviours. By empowering them, they become independent and can make an informed decision about their sexual behaviours,” he said.
Ogungbemi, who represented the NACA DG, Dr. Sani Aliyu, pointed out that evidence has shown that poverty and financial dependency are some of the major drivers of HIV, especially among young and vulnerable females, with the same evidence also suggesting economic empowerment as a social protection strategy that can boost the coping strategies of people infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Data from the Nigeria National HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), released earlier in the year, showed an HIV prevalence rate of 1.9 per cent, with women aged 15-49 years shown to be more than twice likely to be living with the virus than men. The findings further revealed that 75 per cent of persons with HIV in Nigeria are between the reproductive and working ages of 15 and 49 years, with poverty recognised as one of the drivers of the epidemic.
He explained that the agency and its partners organised the micro-enterprise training to empower 50 young girls and vulnerable women in the state as part of efforts to reduce women’s financial dependence, which predisposes them to gender-based violence, sexually risky behaviours and HIV infection. Beneficiaries included women living with HIV and those affected by the disease. If the beneficiaries make good use of the opportunity given to them through the empowerment initiative, Ogungbemi said it will help in reducing the prevalence of the disease and the rate of new infections. This is also an important strategy in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), he added, promising that the 50 women would be monitored to ensure that they make good use of the opportunity given to them.
“Evidence exists that gender-related interventions are potent tools for breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty, particularly for disadvantaged women and girl children. Enabling economic empowerment and providing sustainable livelihoods for this population will reduce the rate of new HIV infections and bring us closer to achieving HIV epidemic control by 2030,” he said.
TAM fund Chairman, Senator Dipo Odujirin, corroborated Ogungbemi, saying with reports showing that more women were coming down with HIV/AIDS, the government needs to focus more on initiating measures that could address HIV spread among the female gender. Advising those empowered to make good use of what they have received to better their lives, he stressed that the empowerment programme will help to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women in the country if the beneficiaries leverage the skills they have acquired to become economically viable citizens with the potential expectation to become employers of labour.
According to the deputy director (Gender, Human rights and Care services), NACA, Dr. Yinka Falola-Anoemuah, the training received by the vulnerable women and young girls covered confectionary, craft, and beautification, including hair dressing and make-up business skills. It also included making of household essentials such as soap, cream, pomade and short-term vegetable farming, with each receiving a start-up pack.
Some of the beneficiaries, Maria Adebayo and Morenikeji Aramide, said the training included skills in how to create, manage and sustain their business, customer relationship and life-building skills such as understanding the life process and the importance of relating with one another.