IAA organized a
special event in collaboration with IUAES (International Union
of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences). The event was:
One Day session on Women, HIV/AIDS
and Human Rights as part of IUAES Inter -Congress from
11th to 15th
of December, 2005.
Date : 14 Dec, 2004
Venue: Ballygaunge Science College, Kolkatta
The conference was sponsored by UNESCO.
AIDS can easily be looked at as
one of the most significant threats facing the world today. The
contemporary discourse on AIDS indicates that globally the
gender dimension provides critical understanding of the social
and behavioral aspects of this issue. The importance of the
linkage between the vulnerability of women in the patriarchal
setup of India and the rapid spread of AIDS cannot be
overlooked. The weak position and dispensability of the girl
child in a family, the subordination of the daughter-in-law, the
medical neglect of women, the commodification of their bodies,
all add up to an alarming situation not only for the women alone
but for the entire society. There is an inextricable link
between women and children and the entire future of the family
can be jeopardized by the marginalisation of women’s health and
With the aim to analyze and reflect
upon various issues related to HIV/AIDS and the links between
women’s position, its transformation by the feminization of
Adjustment Programmes of economic
globalization, the pressures of urban life, the rise in
criminality and a conference (special session under the IUAES
Inter Congress) was hosted by the Indian Anthropological
Association in collaboration with the IUAES on 14th December at
Ballygunge Science College, Kolkata.
aimed at generating a meaningful dialogue among agencies and
individuals concerned with the empowerment and welfare of
HIV/AIDS victims specially women.
The deliberations in the
conference revolved around important themes ranging from social
reasons for the vulnerability of women, gender roles and
social/cultural stereotypes, categorization of most vulnerable
groups among women, link between AIDS and feminization of
poverty, cultural values and models that work against the rights
of women to health, cultural attitudes and practices towards
female victims of AIDS, issues of human rights, pressures of
urban life to tribes and their vulnerability to the problem of
AIDS and issues of state policy, public health and AIDS.
The conference hosted participants
from various backgrounds (both academic and non-academic)-
universities, social workers, grass root level organizations,
NGOs and International funding organizations. The aim was to
bring together scholars, activists and victims of HIV/AIDS on
the common platform. Additional and equally important goal is to
create a spillover effect through follow up workshops on this
vital issue that permeates in its multiple dimensions into the
everyday life of the Indian society.
The broad themes of the conference
are listed below:
The conference was well attended
by over 100 people representing a plethora of spheres and
affiliated to various institutions with a variety of interests
and background. In terms of professions, there were people from
universities from across the country as well as outside-
teachers, researchers and students, and then there were
activists, bureaucrats, administrators, policy makers, and grass
root workers. The participants included scholars working with
AIDS like Prof. Patrice Cohen, Prof. Shalina Mehta of Punjab
University (Chandigarh), Prof. Buddhadeb Chaudhuri, Ambedkar
Chair in Anthropology, Calcutta University, Ambedkar Chair
in Anthropology, Calcutta University, Dr. Nita Mawar of National
AIDS Research Institute (Pune), Dr. Nilika Mehrotra, Dr. Sunita
Reddy and Dr. Rajib Dasgupta of J.N.U. New Delhi, Dr. S. M. Patnaik of Delhi University, Dr. S. K. Chaudhury, Lucknow
University, Dr. Nita Mathur of IGNOU, Delhi and many
representatives from NGOs, medical doctors, social workers and
students of Human rights.
The students had also made posters
for the session that depicted various aspects of the problem.
The session was attended by more than a hundred participants to
the conference and had many interested international scholars.
Harrison, Chairperson, Prof. Shankar Chaudhuri of UNESCO was invited to
deliver a special address as guest of honour and gave a
scintillating speech based on his long experience in dealing
with AIDS and its victims.
The audience comprised of a large
number of young students, researchers and professionals. It was
heartening to see the enthusiasm among the group and their
contribution to making the conference a success is as much as
the organisers and the presenters.
The gender dimension of AIDS needs
particular attention because of the critical insights it
provides on the social and behavioral aspects of the issue.
meaningful dialogue is generated and sustained between the
various stakeholders- HIV infected persons, government, NGOs
working for the betterment of the AIDS patients, academicians
and social scientists as well as the common people, much of the
stigma due to lack of information and discussions on the issue
would continue to exist in the future.
Anthropological Association- a premier body of professional
anthropologists is working in diverse fields and members of the
IAA are engaged in teaching and research in grass root work,
planning and administration. Hence the IAA decided to contribute
meaningfully to the existing gap between the common people the
various other stakeholders via the medium of the conference.
provided a platform where all the players were brought together
to discuss and debate the issues and experiences, thereby
broadening and deepening the conceptual, methodological and
practical understanding of issues related to women and HIV/AIDS.
was spread over a day – December 14th. It was divided into three
sessions, namely- Session I: Feminization of Poverty; Session
II: Social and Cultural Stereotypes; Session III: Aspects of
Human Rights with respect to victims of AIDS.
The conference was attended by over 100 people representing a
plethora of spheres and affiliated to various institutions with
a variety of interests and background. In terms of professions,
there were people from universities from within the country and
without- teachers, researchers and students, and then there were
activists, policy makers, and grass root workers. The gathering
was well represented in terms of age, seniority and social
spaces (urban, rural and tribal people).
had also made posters for the session that depicted various
aspects of the problem. The session was attended by more than a
hundred participants to the conference and had many interested
centered on the inequitable distribution of resources within the
world and within society itself. Lack of funds in the detection
and treatment of AIDS is a major problem. It leads to delays or
even prevention of treatment. Thus, even if the rate of
infection is similar, say in the poorer sections of the world
and in the developed sectors, then also the rich can easily
access the most expensive treatments and ensure not only cure
for themselves but also prevent the spread of the disease to
members of their family and community.
many women vulnerable to infection, especially if they have to
survive as sex workers. Poverty and lack of resources also
intensify the onset of the disease related to poor nutritional
status, lack of hygiene and lack of education. Further, poverty
manifests itself in lack of knowledge and access to information
from reliable sources making the AIDS epidemic more severe. The
session also emphasized the need for interdisciplinary studies
on AIDS as a lack of such studies widens the gap between
knowledge of one aspect of the subject and the others.
debated, deepened and enriched the understanding of the role of
social and cultural stereotypes in enhancing the stigma attached
to the people suffering from the infection. Categorization like
the ‘Mother to Child Transfer (MTCT)’ makes the mother look like
she is the only one responsible for the transmission of the
disease, this further alienates a women. Such stereotypes need
to be busted and replaced with appropriate phrases like ‘Parent
to Child Transfer (PTCT)’ Another important theme discussed in
the session was the vulnerable position of women, facing stigma
from health care and the family settings simultaneously. There
is a need for sensitization towards HIV positive women’s issues
and concerns that could help bring about a change in outlook of
the health care staff towards women HIV patients. Central to the
discussion were issues of accessibility of information to women
even in urban areas or the lack of it, ignorance of much of the
present literature of the element of violence against women
(physical, sexual, psychological) that makes them more
susceptible to the disease and the often less talked about theme
of HIV and the youth (under 25 years of age).
looked at facts and figures related to women, HIV and human
rights in the country. The speakers also talked of the
biological, nutritional, psychological, social and personal
vulnerability of women. A bit of history on the spread of the
virus in the country illumined the potential of the problem to
grow uncontrollable in the future if steps were not taken now.
Since the first case reported in the 1980s the disease has
claimed over 5 million victims and the numbers are increasing by
the day. It has now spread into our personal spheres and is no
longer somebody elses’ problem. The notion of ‘otherness’- the
world being divided into ‘us’ healthy people and ‘them’ those
who have AIDS is a major cause of concern as this hampers the
sensitization of the people in touch with AIDS victims like
health officials etc. Also, the studies on AIDS and related
issues need to pick up momentum so as to generate relevant data
on the spread and control of the disease and better management
of patients suffering from HIV.
Some of the
main recommendations are - Do not treat the category of people
with HIV as a uniform one, more empirical research should be
oriented towards specific field areas groups and communities so
that the needs of each and the specific conditions of each
group, individuals and communities may be identified, all rights
must be linked to responsibilities, a conscious effort should be
made in terms of education and publicity to get rid of existing
stereotypes related to AIDS, women must be identified as
individuals and not in relation to family, husband etc. , more
effort should be spent on prevention and not only on management
of persons already affected.
Where do we go
from here? How can there be meaningful interaction between the
anthropological knowledge could be used to develop stronger
studies on AIDS and people suffering from it. Instead of
sensationalizing the issue, as many a people tend to do on
forums, understanding the issue so as to handle it more
responsibly should be the goal.
programmes with special reference to interdisciplinary research
methods should be organized for grass root workers with inputs
from NGO workers and university professionals. The resultant
studies would help NGO workers, health professionals and family
members of HIV positive people becoming more sensitized to the
plight of the sufferers.
There should be
an effort to demystify the myths surrounding the issue in a
manner most easily acceptable/understood by the common people.
There should be
collaborative research conducted on the subject by scholars from
various disciplines as well as the grass root workers, doctors
and health officials, everyone has a different point to pitch in
and this aspect should be utilized more fully.
There should be
frequent interaction between HIV positive people, university
students, NGOs working in the field, development professionals,
university faculty members and donor agencies that work on the
issues of HIV/AIDS. This would minimize the gap between the
needs and the grants and facilitate a greater communication
about each other’s insights/ orientations/ perspectives.
diverse membership the IAA can provide a platform for meaningful