“Women’s empowerment key to ending AIDS epidemic”: Q + A with Dr Geeta Rao Gupta

Dr Geeta Rao Gupta (image from Business Standard)Dr Geeta Rao Gupta, president, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), who addressed a conference on AIDS in Delhi, tells Business Standard that work on AIDS does not limit work on women.

From Business Standard.

Since when has the ICRW been engaged in taking up issues relating to HIV/AIDS?

ICRW was founded in 1976 and first began working on gender and HIV in 1990. At that time people did not think the average woman was at risk of HIV infection.

However, based on our understanding of women’s economic and social vulnerabilities, we knew that women in fact were at high risk – and sadly that has become the reality today. That early thinking informed our ground-breaking work on women and AIDS.

Doesn’t this limit the scope of work that can be done for women’s empowerment?

In no way does our work on aids limit the scope of our work on women’s empowerment. In fact, women’s empowerment is key to ending the AIDS epidemic. Our work on gender and hiv has expanded the gender transfromation agenda in a significant way by challenging and helping to change fundamental social norms harmful to women’s lives and well-being.

What was the main area of work prior to HIV/AIDS taking centre stage?

ICRW has always worked on multiple issues simultaneously. The field of gender and development encompasses a broad scope of issues that often intersect each other. Currently, we work on economic empowerment of women, reproductive health, nutrition and food security, gender-based violence, adolescent health and well-being, as well as HIV/AIDS.

What is the annual funding for the NGO and what are the sources?

Our annual expenditure in 2007 was approximately $11 million, and our funding sources include private foundations, the US government, the World Bank, UN agencies, corporate entities, and individuals. It is important to note that ICRW is not a donor agency. We work with partners who share our vision and mission, and more often than not, we raise funds collaboratively to fulfill the vision.

How much is set aside for HIV/AIDS?

Funds for specific programme areas vary annually depending on available resources and donors’ priorities. In 2007, expenditures for HIV/AIDS-related projects were approximately $3.4 million.

How many NGOs do you partner with in India? Is industry also being partnered with in the present scenario of CSR?

There is no fixed number. We work in partnerships with various NGOs, academic institutions, government agencies, and corporate sectors.

Which are the companies working with you in India?

We are working with Gap Inc And the Nike foundation.

What are your future plans for India?

To continue to undertake action-oriented research and advocacy to empower women, advance gender equality and fight poverty.

What do you think is the key to empowering women in India?

The key to empowering women is to provide them with education, ensure that they have economic opportunities and that they control their income and resources, reduce violence against women, and enable them to participate in decision making at all levels of society.

Do you think the marriage system and the patriarchal system are to blame for the prevalence of dowry, female feticide, and high maternal mortality in India?

We need more research to generate rigorous evidence on the linkages between these issues.

What can make Indians care for their women folk?

Attitudes have to change across all strata of society, among both women and men.

Don’t you think organisations like yours are neglecting these issues by giving too much attention to stigma caused by a single disease which is not even as widespread as malaria or TB?

We are working on all opportunities presented to us that help challenge and change social norms that create and sustain gender inequality.

As you may be aware that UNAIDS had to admit that its data on HIV/AIDS in India was highly inflated and had to make its own campaign low key.

The fact that India’s HIV infection rates are lower than originally estimated is wonderful news, but it does not mean that women no longer are at risk of HIV or that women’s lives overall have improved. We have much more work to do toward understanding gender constraints and barriers for women in India.


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