Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The impact of HIV/AIDS on women and their work roles in Uganda

Sylvia Tamale, Dean of the Faculty of Law from Makerere University in Uganda, highlighted the fact, in her presentation on Gender, Work and HIV/AIDS in Uganda, that almost all research on the impact of HIV/AIDS totally ignores the role of women. On a personal level the emotional impact of HIV/AIDS and the extra workload assumed by women as a result is largely ignored. In terms of economic impact, most studies ignore the fact that support from the so-called care economy impacts directly on formal economy.

In Uganda, a woman’s work us largely invisible, unrecognised and undervalued; yet she is responsible for the care of the household, work in the field, selling goods on the roadside and co-ordinating community activities and often assumes double or triple shifts by working in the formal work force as well.

What studies tend to ignore is that a large proportion of the diverse activities performed by women does not fall into the traditional economy and does not make up part of Gross Domestic Product, but it is important to note that this largely female, largely invisible economy greatly subsidises and underpins the effectiveness of the visible economy, said Tamale.

At the heart of the struggle of HIV is the concept of care – physical care for the sick, care of the bereaved, psychological care and support of affected family members – and studies ignore the impact of HIV/AIDS care needs on the productivity and effectiveness of the work women do. Women are primarily responsible for the care of the sick, but the impact of the extra emotional, physical and time demands on her resources is not accounted for.

Studies also ignore the impact of personal HIV infection on the productivity of women doing unpaid work that sustain homesteads and families.

Infection often has dire consequences for a woman’s productive labour, and ultimately all these issues affect the economy at local, nationals and regional levels explained Tamale.

As HIV/AIDS related deaths chip away at the strong family network that guarantees familial support for siblings and the elderly there is a rise in women and child-headed households, imposing a socio-economic toll on affected families. Not only does this compromise a family’s standard of living, but also forces grandmother’s back into a full time parenting and household support role.

Since women are at the forefront of responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis, women in HIV affected families are often overburdened. However, Tamale noted that there were unexpected benefits from the pandemic, which include a new political consciousness of women, an increase in self esteem in women who are able to successfully offer help, the opening up of the silence on the taboo of talking about sex and a change in the traditional roles of men and women.

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