SINCE the advent of HIV/AIDS, war has been waged against the eradication of the disease by several countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and to some extent, individuals.
And on NGOs that have taken a unique approach towards the fight against HIV/AIDS, is the Zambia Media Women Association (ZAMWA) targeting the rural populace.
ZAMWA undertook a project in four rural communities to build capacities within the communities where women bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS because they are mothers, care givers and wives who also have to look for food and feed families.
According to ZAMWA chairperson Margaret Chimanse, the objective of the project was to mobilise the remote rural communities, and create a critical mass, in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The other objective was to work with remote rural communities in order to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS, and enable them to identify and analyse HIV/AIDS issues.
To advocate for pro-poor and HIV/AIDS sensitive policies and practices, strengthen the capacity of community media in addressing issues of HIV/AIDS and to network with the community health neighborhoods and the home based care in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Other objectives included identifying community-based programmes that would address the problems of those that have been affected by HIV/AIDS and to lobby Government institutions, churches, and non-governmental organisations so that they would get involved in the community based programmes.
Ms Chimanse added that the project high came on December 1, â€œWorld Aids Day,â€ when she published stories in the print and electronic media of the struggles of rural women and their basic needs to continue the fight; these were stories of brave women who put in their time voluntarily with no resources to help those who were sick in their communities.
Ms Chimanse said apart from reporting on the HIV/AIDS issues, ZAMWA carried out education campaigns in the communities, and encouraged them to intensify the fight against HIV/AIDS.
She said ZAMWA also felt that while reporting and educating people on HIV/AIDS, the media could, together with other organisations, participate in research, advocacy and lobbying. Further, the media would be able to influence policy changes in the interest of fighting the disease.
Ms Chimanse explained that in Lufwanyama, one of the communities that were visited, was women home based care givers that were crying for a CD 4 count machine.
â€œThe stories were similar in Monze, Kapiri Mposhi and the outskirts of Chipata were women here asking for support from the Government, NGOs and the donor community,â€ she said.
While poverty may be seen to have contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the rural areas, Ms Chimanse said that the opposite is also true.
She added that HIV/AIDS has contributed to the high poverty levels in the villages. And many people who are infected and eventually die from AIDS are those who are in the physically active group of people.
â€œAs livelihood in the rural areas largely depends on hard work on the land, a number of breadwinners have died, leaving untold misery to their children and aged parents,â€ Ms Chimanse said.
And former Health Minister Angela Cifire commended ZAMWA for the fight against HIV AIDS saying it was gratifying to see the stance women in the media were taking.
Ms Cifire urged ZAMWA to double its efforts in the fight against the disease in the rural areas because of the vulnerability found there.
She, however, noted with pleasure the increased participation of female journalists in the fight against HIV/AIDS through their various skills.
â€œThere has been an increase in the participation and I would like to see more coverage on sensitising the women in the rural areas on the disease, from women in the media,â€ she said.
In many instances even those who are in urban areas are taken to their villages once they are terminally ill, and once they die, it is their aged parents that are left to look after their grandchildren. As a result there are so many households where orphans are being taken care of by aged grand parents.
The poverty levels of such households are also high because the aged no longer have enough energy to be able to work on the land and take care of their grandchildren.
Consequently, these children are not able to attend school, resulting in an increase in illiteracy levels in the villages.
According to â€˜The Initiativeâ€™ magazine, a publication of the Maureen Mwanawasa Community Initiative July to September 2006 edition on women economic empowerment, this is crucial to a country like Zambia where women face a lot of disadvantages due to cultural and educational barriers.
MMCI has in the past five years endeavored to reach as many women as possible throughout Zambia and the strategy has yielded many positive results enabling women to put food on the table and send children back to school and pay for medical facilities.
Empowerment projects have also benefited families that have either been directly or indirectly affected by the HIV/AIDS.
About 52 per cent of the Zambian population comprises women. Women contribute a lot to the economic development of the country at both household and national levels.
Â In rural areas they participate greatly in agricultural production for domestic consumption, as well as in other labour intensive tasks essential for household survival, such as fetching water and firewood.
They have a primary responsibility of ensuring household food security, health and nutrition of their families.
Despite women being central to the promotion of health, their position in the rural society is not fully appreciated. Men due to traditional and cultural beliefs sometimes subject them to exploitation.
With the advent of HIV/AIDS, women and girl children are the most affected groups of the population. Mothers and daughters workload has increased drastically since they are the ones providing nursing care to the families that have been affected.
Sometimes they are forced to change their lifestyles and abandon what is dear to their lives such as employment just in order to take care of the terminally ill.
Girls who are attending school are also subjected to the same, to the extent of abandoning school.
All this is because people who are suffering from AIDS need continuous care by someone. It is the mothers and the girl children who have to walk long distances to fetch the water and perform other domestic chores that are necessary for the sick as well as the rest of the family.
The challenges of poverty are huge and special attention needs to be given to poverty that is brought about by the disease and to the women who have no means to fight this social ill.
Pro-poor policies should be developed to help and sustain those who are less privileged. It calls for communities to come together, the Government, civil society and the private sector to develop solutions to this ill.
â€œ Women are working together and collaborating with each other to ensure that they get a stake in the development agenda and participate effectively.â€
â€œThis is largely because of the tireless efforts of women NGOs who have helped sensitise the women and communities on various spheres of community and civic participation and these NGOs have built capacities in women that help them analyse issues and understand that without womenâ€™s enhanced participation there can be no real development,â€ Ms Chimanse said.
She commented that the real issue was not bridging the gap between men and women but to ensure there was equal access to resources, education, training and governance to ensure that women also enjoyed their human rights because womenâ€™s rights are human rights.