Giving a Voice to Unpaid HIV Care Workers – Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting

‘The voices of carers speak to their daily struggles with life decisions that have socio-economic and political implications for their families and communities’ – Dr Meena Shivdas

The crucial role of unpaid carers looking after people living with HIV/AIDS should be urgently recognised as a missing part of the treatment equation.

In a statement prepared for the 9th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (9WAMM), a group of 16 Commonwealth parliamentarians said the invisible and unvalued contribution of unpaid care workers impacted negatively on the wellbeing of families.

The parliamentarians and researchers met in Barbados over the weekend for an advocacy workshop to discuss research on the gender and policy dimensions of unpaid HIV care.

“At the centre of the AIDS response are the 12 million people who urgently require access to treatment, care and support. Eight million people who require treatment but do not have access to it are care for at home mostly by women and children, especially girls. These unpaid carers are the missing factor in the treatment equation,” they said.

This was particularly pertinent in the context of the global public debt crisis, which will have a huge impact on HIV treatment and care, with cutbacks impacting on healthcare. “It is imperative that we place the unpaid HIV carer in the household as part of the core response to HIV,” they agreed.

The workshop was organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

Worldwide, there are 33.4 million people living with HIV and nearly two thirds of them are Commonwealth citizens. Over half are women.

Dr Meena Shivdas, Advisor at the Secretariat’s Gender Section said that the research was undertaken as a response to a paper on financing gender equality in HIV interventions, presented when Women’s Affairs Ministers last met in Uganda in 2007.

“This paper set off discussions on unpaid full time HIV care and the need to amplify the voices of carers to make the links between the dignity and rights of carers and the economics of policy and programme decisions on HIV.

“The voices of these carers — women, men and children — speak to their daily struggles with life decisions that have socio-economic and political implications for their families and communities.”

Countries covered in the research were Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The research was undertaken by Professor Marilyn Waring, a former MP from New Zealand and CPA member whose extensive work on women’s unpaid work is globally acknowledged. She is currently at the Auckland University of Technology. Dr Robert Carr, the author of the paper that set off the research, is the Director of ICASO, and a global HIV activist. Associate Prof Anit Mukherjee is a health economist at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, and a lead author of the AIDS Commission in Asia report. Dr Shivdas is the fourth member of the team, and works on human rights, the law and HIV.

Commonwealth News and Information Service (London)


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