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Mothers, Women and Funding for HIV/AIDS: Putting one against the other?

1 During this International Womens Day I want to send a question to the world, the feminists, the womens advocates and specially donors. I am an HIV advocate since 2000 when I discovered my HIV positive status. All over these years, funding for women on the HIV/AIDS arena has not been abundant. The first gender barriers I encountered were among people working on HIV/AIDS, who would argue women were not affected by HIV, since HIV was known as health problem affecting mostly men. I was the only, or the second woman among many gay men living with HIV for some years. Nowadays, things have changed, I am not glad for this. I see now more women living with HIV, and they are not necessarily part of the so called- vulnerable groups, they are ordinary women, like I was when I got HIV. Maybe I am wrong, and I so much want to be wrong; and to understand better the funding philosophy on HIV/AIDS, in other development issues, it might be different, but HIV is case the one I know. I wish I could see examples in which my perception could be challenged. I see there is a lot of money (not in my country) for HIV prevention activities. This money is supposed to be for women when in fact it is not for women but using women as the medium to prevent HIV transmission to children, the general population and to sex workers clients. But this money is not directed to empower women and girls. Therefore, more and more women continue to acquire HIV. I even feel (and I am not the only one), that some donors are only funding activities directed to pregnant women or to mothers, and the rest of women are left to their own destiny. I wonder: Could it be that funding on HIV/AIDS is putting mothers against women? In most societies and cultures motherhood is valued as the one marker of feminine identity; therefore, it is not difficult to understand why women will get pregnant: in doing so they will become official women. A Mexican feminist Anthropologist like Marcela Largarde puts emphasis on this: women become real women only when they become mothers: this is a reality to the point that motherhood makes many women captives. If this is the case, donors are just reinforcing the stereotype as mother=woman. My own country, Bolivia, has a small bonus for pregnant women (Bono Madre Nio- Nia Juana Azurduy) Comparing to the expenses a woman will have when getting pregnant and raising a baby, the amount these women-mothers receive, is offensive! No wonder why the same woman will get

I sincerely thank Alice Welbourn for helping me correct the English grammar.

pregnant immediately after in order to get the second small cash transfer and so on, or stay with an abusive partner in order to pay the bills of the small children. Meanwhile, single and/or childless women dont receive any support. I experience the fact that if a woman has no children, a crowd of people will reinforce the idea of dominant gender system: you have to become a mother in order to become a woman; creating guilt in the childless woman. This happened to me as I announced my commitment to marry! People came with congratulations but also asking me when I was going to get pregnant. A childless woman knows that in most cases, she will have to deal alone with all the needs in terms of health, justice and education. I dont disagree with the fact that pregnant women must be a priority on HIV prevention, but other women who are not pregnant, are still at risk of HIV, exposed to gender based violence and many other problems, just because they are women. During my leadership in the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (REDBOL); one of my priorities was to advocate for women living with HIV and especially the ones who had children, but this did not mean the elimination of women who did not have children. I wonder about the long term impact of a policy that gives support to pregnant women (such as cash transfers or meal kits). Perhaps, these policies could generate more dependence: forcing women to become pregnant if they want to receive some pennies. What about the single 19 year old who is at risk of violence and HIV? What about the 21 year old, childless woman who wants to open a business for herself? And what about the many women who (for many reasons) cant or will choose not have children? By the way, my mother is one of the most amazing women in the world, I admire and respect her love and dedication to her children, but had she been supported as a woman (not only as a mother), she could have become president of my country; I think she is far more intelligent than our current leaders. I think maybe it is time to review the patriarchal basis of our policies, if we want to support women; we have to support all of them, not just the ones who get pregnant. In this time of history, the less we need is funding putting mothers against women. When writing this piece, I am not representing any organization. I am just a childless woman living with HIV asking questions on HIV/AIDS funding. I would appreciate it if some donors had interesting experiences (and responses) to tell about their support to empower women as women on the HIV/AIDS arena. Gracia Violeta Ross, March 8th, 2012. La Paz-Bolivia (South America)