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Regional themes > Gender Last update: 2020-11-27  

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To have and to hold: women's property and inheritance rights in the context of HIV/AIDS in sub-saharan Africa

Richard S. Strickland, Ph.D.

Posted with permission of Ms Kaori Izumi (FAO/Harare).
Further acknowledgements are due to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).
[Download complete version - 390Kb ~ 2 min (84 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]

The global HIV/AIDS epidemic is driven in part by conditions of poverty in which individual and household options are constrained and risky choices may be made to ensure survival. Gender inequality, power dynamics in sexual relations, and women’s lack of economic empowerment relate directly to patterns of poverty and are key factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS (Rao Gupta 2000 and 2002; World Bank 2003). At the same time, the epidemic leads to new social and economic burdens – often borne by women and girls – among households affected by HIV/AIDS that can stretch household safety nets to the breaking point. Defusing this self-reinforcing relationship between poverty and HIV/AIDS requires understanding how individuals and communities might best employ their resources and assets to prevent infection and to mitigate the consequences of HIV/AIDS.

The cost to households affected by HIV/AIDS can be great. AIDS-related losses can reduce household incomes by up to 80 percent, food consumption by 15 to 30 percent, and primary school enrollment by 20 to 40 percent (Whiteside 2002). The weakening of household safety nets and depletion of assets exacerbate household vulnerability to further HIV infection and future economic shocks. In this context, it is especially important to determine how the security and utilization of the household asset base can help prevent HIV infection and mitigate the consequences once a household becomes affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. Chief among assets is immovable property such as land and housing. Access to, ownership of, and control over such property are fundamental determinants of secure livelihoods: they provide a secure place to live, a site for economic and social activity, and collateral for credit and other resources and services. All are essential to household efforts to prevent and mitigate HIV/AIDS.

Widespread exclusion of women in developing countries from owning or controlling property, as well as limits often dictated by custom concerning their access to and use of property such as land, means that they are often barred from many of the resources that would allow them to improve their chances of preventing infection or enhance their capacity to mitigate the consequences of HIV/AIDS. Coupled with this, women often lose control over assets upon the dissolution of a marriage or death of a spouse (COHRE 2003).

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