Saturday, February 23, 2008

Microfinance and HIV+ Women Living in Panjab

A recent article in the Tribune talks about the formation of a self-help group for Punjabi widows living with HIV. By fighting against the stigma experienced by these women, an initiative has been created to ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS in Punjab can be self-reliant and not be resolved to deal with a lifetime of misery.
Counselled by a local NGO, Ambuja Foundation, these 12 initial members will save Rs 50 each for three months. Out of the Rs 1,800 thus collected, they will open a bank account with Rs 500 and keep the remaining Rs 1,300 to be loaned to members at a nominal interest of 2 per cent. “Hopefully this amount will grow as more people join the group”, says group member Satinder.
Providing microfinance loans to women has been particularly effective and is one of the main ways to help lift women out of poverty. Encouraging women to be self-reliant and providing them with the responsibility of fiscal accountability is instrumental in the empowerment of communities. The article discusses the necessity of this empowerment,
The self-help group not only aims at providing financial support to its members, but also acts as an extended family. “After my husband’s death, my father-in-law tried to rape me. When I resisted I was thrown out of the house. For many months I was not allowed to meet my children. Only recently, this group of HIV positive people accompanied me to my in-laws and confronted them. Seeing so many people come to my support, my children were allowed to come with me”, says Harbans Kaur (name changed) of Heerpur village. The group gives each other moral support besides making others feel cared and wanted in the absence of their own families abandoning them because of prevailing myths about HIV/AIDS.
This seems to be an important step forward in helping to break the barriers of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and leading to empowerment for women.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Healthy Youth, Healthy Punjab

As a reaction to the increasingly high rates of drug abuse, the Punjab government is working to set up a Youth Development Board to tackle issues related to drug abuse. Students at Punjab University will become advocates to help steer their peers away from using drugs. Launching the campaign against drugs under the aegis of the Students Organisation of India (SOI), the message of “No Drugs” would be launched all over the state and would reach out to every school and college of Punjab.
[The] future of Punjab would be bright only if our youngsters will be healthy... big industrial units are being set up in Punjab to provide maximum employment to our youth... in order to provide higher computerized education to our rural youth, institutions are being set up at village level. It will provide special opportunities of education to rural girls.
The goal is to spread this program from school to school and village to village and by doing so, empowering youth to take an active role in tackling the issue of drug abuse.
For this purpose two vans have been specially prepared which will travel in every nock and corner of state to organize against drugs. Documentaries against drugs will be organized and psychiatrist will deliver lectures to enlighten people against the ill effect of drugs. Apart from drugs... a special helpline has been created on which any person can contact SOI cadets on phone or at e-mail these cadets will help him to get medical and psychological help from concerned drug de-addiction centre.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Think BIG!

This past weekend I attended a very informative International Women's Health and Human Rights conference founded by a group of students dedicated to motivating and mobilizing students and community members by bringing attention to issues such as reproductive health, education, violence, and HIV/AIDS.
Our purpose is to demonstrate to students both the need and opportunity to act, as well as to provide direct support to women's groups that are already making a difference. Our goal is far-reaching: to empower women around the world by inspiring our generation to take action.
The two sessions I attended focused on HIV/AIDS and violence against women, respectively. The keynote speaker for the first session was Dr. Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He is an incredible speaker and is able to describe the desperation of the issues in a very eloquent manner. He commented about the differences in the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa compared to the face of the pandemic in Asia or Latin America. While HIV/AIDS is considered "generalized" in Africa, impacting predominantly heterosexual couples, in Asia and Latin America the prevalence is highest in high-risk populations such as sex workers and Intravenous Drug Users. An emphasis was placed on how we have to work towards ensuring it doesn't become a generalized pandemic in these places, and prevent the impact we are observing in Africa. It was a very interesting point. One of the panelists in this session works for a grassroots organization called GRACE (Grassroots Alliance for Community Education). She told us the story of a 91-year old grandmother who, despite the loss of 12 sons and daughters to HIV/AIDS, is the sole care-taker of her 16 grandchildren who are all orphans. It was a very powerful story that brought the issue into perspective. An entire generation of people have been wiped out by this pandemic and this has dire consequences on the social fabric and stability of communities and countries. The main argument made was that while these health and human rights issues in and of themselves are important global issues that need to be tackled, we have to keep in mind how they are adversely impacting women around the world and what this means to the stability of communities in all countries.

On a final note, one of the speakers said something which I thought was really important to share, "The first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive".

A book I am currently reading related to these issues is called From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice. The conference was supported by the Global Fund for Women.