What Women Want

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At 25, Fatima, who lives in Morocco, has experienced more of life than women twice herage. Married at 20, she lost her first born son at four months of age; soon thereafter shediscovered that she was infected with HIV.

Fatima is one of the lucky ones. While shunned by friends and family, her husband hasstood by her through it all. “My husband supported me,” she said. “He believes it is God’swill and he will not leave me until death.” The couple went on to have two daughters, andboth they and her husband are not infected. “My hope is able to take care of my daughters.The oldest one wants to be a doctor,” she said proudly. “She always says, ‘I will be a doctorand cure you, Mom. You will not have to take this medicine anymore.’”

Such are the dreams of the members of MENA-Rosa. Many they share with millions ofother women across the region to whom HIV is just a string of letters, not a daily reality:marriage, children, grandchildren, a happy and healthy life for themselves and theirfamilies. But for many, HIV has altered life priorities. “Before my infection, my wish was towork, live, be happy, travel and have money,” says Hiba, a 30 year old from Lebanon, whohas been living with HIV for five years. “Now, the money / financial situation has no longerany impact on my life, health is the most important thing to me.” But for others, in lessfortunate circumstances, money does matter; their illness means that food, housing andhealthcare are daily struggles.

UNAIDS has neatly summarized the challenges facing women living with HIV around theworld, challenges which equally confront women in the Middle East and North Africa:

“Unbalanced power relations, lack of access to services, economic and legal empowermentdifferentials between men and women, sexual coercion and violence and entrenchedgender roles limit the ability of women and girls to exercise their rights. HIV-relatedstigma and discrimination disproportionally affect women and girls, constraining theirability to access services. HIV-positive women and girls are less likely to have access toservices, disclose their status or negotiate safer sex for fear of being mistreated, rejectedor experiencing violence. Moreover, women and girls carry a disproportionate and debilitating burden of AIDS-related care, especially in places with weak health and otherpublic sector services. In addition, girls miss school and women are forced to leave paidwork due to factors such as early marriage, pregnancy outside marriage and sociallyascribed requirements to care for the sick, thereby deepening the poverty and economicdependence of women, reducing their ability to participate in public life and hinderingtheir socioeconomic, cultural and political potentials.”