ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work

The proportion of women of working-age living with HIV/AIDS is increasing in
all regions of the world, according to the ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the
World of Work. Its latest report "Women, girls, HIV/AIDS and the world of
work", December 2004, published for World AIDS Day 2004, says the proportion of
women among adults living with HIV/AIDS rose from 43 per cent in 1998 to 48 per
cent in 2003, and continues to grow. In sub-Saharan Africa, women represent 57
per cent of all HIV-positive adults, and three quarters of young people living
with HIV are women and girls. On World AIDS Day, ILO Online spoke with Odile
Frank of the ILO/AIDS programme about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and the
world of work.

What are the effects of HIV/AIDS on the labour force?

An estimated 37 million people of working age have HIV, and by next year as
many as 28 million workers will have been lost to the global labour force since
the start of the epidemic due to HIV/AIDS (Note 1). In the absence of increased
access to treatment, the losses will increase to 74 million by 2015, making
HIV/AIDS one of the biggest causes of mortality in the world of work. There is
growing recognition of the impact of HIV/AIDS on national economies, but clear
evidence now that women are bearing the largest share of costs.

How do you explain the worldwide increase in the proportion of women living
with HIV/AIDS?

Most people who are infected with HIV or who die of AIDS in developing
countries are now women. The risk of transmission is greatest for girls and
women: worldwide, women represent 60 per cent of new HIV infections. In the
current context of poverty, lower levels of education and limited access to
resources, young women and girls 15 to 24 years are at higher risk of HIV
infection than young men and boys. In Africa and the Caribbean, there are now
up to twice as many young women as men living with HIV, and in parts of eastern
and southern African countries, there may be six times as many young women as
men who are infected with HIV. In some areas, already more than one-third of
teenage girls are infected.

The feminization of the epidemic is even more pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa
- why?

In Sub-Saharan Africa the gender gap in prevalence started earlier and widened
rapidly. Africa has a young population and it is principally young people who
are becoming infected with HIV. Africa cannot afford to lose young women in
such large numbers. Young women are essential to Africa's growing economies, as
well as to family building, community care and the education of future
generations. Together, young men and women account for half of all new HIV
cases globally, but more than two-thirds are in Africa.

How does this affect development prospects in these countries?

Because the young are becoming HIV positive at a faster rate than the general
population, future as well as present human capacity is undermined and progress
in sustainable development is jeopardized. Young men and women are the new
generation of the labour force that should produce and consume goods and
services, as well as the entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow. The high
prevalence of HIV among them means that the size of the labour force will be
drastically reduced, that many will struggle to work when they are ill, and
that their children will lose the care and guidance of parents.

Many of these young persons are already caring for ill and dying relatives. In
2003, there were more than 12 million children in Africa who had lost one or
both parents to AIDS, and most of these orphans were motherless. Young people,
particularly young women and girls, also pay a high price for living in a world
with HIV/AIDS when duties of care and of finding work force them to drop out of
school. In most cases girls are the first to have their education interrupted
or ended. As a result, they are less prepared for the world of work, and they
are at risk of impoverishment as well as HIV.

Does their low status in society and in the labour market raise women's risk of

The greater the gender discrimination in societies and the lower the position
of women, the more negatively they are affected by HIV. The main threat to
women lies in the fact that it is not their own behaviour that puts them at
risk, but that of men. Women's low social status is the driving force of their
greater risk of being infected with HIV. Dependence, poverty and fear of
impoverishment raise their odds of becoming infected.

Does physical and sexual violence also play a role in the world of work?

Women may be exposed to the risk of sexual harassment and abuse at the
workplace. They face pressure to have sex in return for being hired or
promoted, or to avoid dismissal. Research in one African country's coffee, tea,
and light manufacturing industries found that women experienced violence and
harassment as a normal part of their working lives. Over 90 per cent of the
women interviewed had experienced or observed sexual abuse in their workplace
and 70 per cent of the men viewed sexual harassment of women workers as normal
and natural behaviour.

In a climate of daily violence against women, just the anticipation and fear of
violence may prevent them from refusing sex, or from insisting on the use of
condoms or other forms of safer sex.

How can societies avert the loss of productive women though HIV/AIDS?

We need to act on more than one front. The challenge is to pursue two parallel
lines of action simultaneously. There is an urgent need to address the problem
of AIDS now, and women must have their fair share of treatment. At the same
time, it is essential to address the root causes of HIV transmission, and
prevention remains key. A path to reverse the actual trend has already been
traced; it now needs political will, determination and appropriate resources.
Poverty eradication, transformation of workplace practices, keeping girls in
school, job training, and attacking the root causes of women's low status
through legislation are as essential to reduce HIV transmission as raising
women's awareness of the risk of transmission and giving them the direct means o
f prevention.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: International Labour Organization