New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: HIV-Positive Women Need Their Rights

Kampala — When Fausta Katabaire, 54, worked to found the Mulago Positive Women's Network (MPWN) in 2004, she wanted to help HIV-positive women realise their lives were not yet over.

Now, as the treasurer of the organisation, Katabaire encourages HIV-positive women to train and get skills, work and fight for their rights.

Women are at a greater risk of contracting HIV than men because of social, cultural and biological factors like child marriages, polygamy, rape, defilement, wife inheritance, poverty, exploitation and ignorance.

Katabaire lost her husband to AIDS in 1997 and struggled to keep her children in school. She was lucky that after her husband's death, his family did not try to take away her children or property, as is often the case in some areas in Uganda.

The Uganda Women Lawyers Association (FIDA), deals with so many issues surrounding unfair treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS and they have a project dedicated to addressing the rights of these people.

Barbara Babweteera is a lawyer working on the Legal Rights for People Affected by HIV/AIDS project and is based in Kamuli.

Babweteera says as long as a couple was legally married, when the man dies, the woman can be protected because the property belongs to both the husband and wife.

"In cases where the relationship is not recognised by the legal system, the assets go to the children. It is harder to protect the women in these cases."

Babweteera says a major concern in her area is the practice of wife inheritance. When a man dies, his wife can be inherited by his brother, which when combined with polygamy, can lead to a greater spread of HIV.

The issues are not just surrounding the death of a spouse. When a woman is discovered to be HIV-positive she can also encounter conflict.

"Many women are sent away and their property is taken by the relatives. Some even had their children taken," said Katabaire, about some of the women in her group.

FIDA tries to provide an avenue for these women to fight. They try to mediate between the couple to avoid using the legal system. Often times, says Babweteera, with counselling the issues can be resolved.

However, Katabaire says many women do not know where to go for help. It is these women the MPWN aims to help.

The organisation has mobilisation teams that target women who have gone to Mulago Hospital for treatment, those that have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and those who have been neglected at home.

The teams visit the women's communities and meet their families to encourage positive living of those with HIV/AIDS, especially those who are facing stigma and hostility. A big part of their work relies on peer counselling, women sharing their stories and training.

The organisation offers information to women on topics such as adherence, nutrition for patients and their families, hygiene and trains them in small business book keeping.

"We encourage women living with HIV/AIDS to be active for as long as they are still strong," Katabaire says.

MPWN is creating a training centre on Gayaza Road, seven miles from Kampala. When completed, the members plan to start mushroom growing, piggery, poultry keeping and fish farming. They will also be taught about beading, jewellery making and sewing.

The association encourages its members to plant fruits and vegetables in order to provide balanced nutrition to their families. To facilitate this, MPWN hands out seedlings.

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