Women living with HIV/AIDS start afresh

More than 1,300 poor women have received home-based care, skills-training and grants to start their own businesses through a Fund for Gender Equality programme.

“I was afraid to sell goods to villagers,” admits Mom, a 35-year-old single mother of two young girls living in Norea Ten village in Svay Rieng province, in southeastern Cambodia. She used to work as a producer of local Khmer Wine (Sra Sor) but was forced to stop when she was diagnosed with HIV.

Mom recalls the hostility she faced from her neighbours in the village, who would take her products and refuse to pay for them – all of which made her fearful for her safety and ability to make a living. Discrimination against women living with HIV and AIDS is compounded by the lack of education and knowledge of the epidemic, particularly in rural areas. Sexual violence and early forced marriage exacerbates the risk of HIV transmission.

In 2010, two local Cambodian NGOs, Cambodia Health Education Media Service (CHEMS) and Cambodian HIV/Aids Education and Care (CHEC) came together to develop a programme to tackle the many challenges that low-income women and those living with HIV face in rural Cambodia. The progam addresses the challenges by strengthening economic opportunities, leadership skills for women and improving their access to health care. It also improves knowledge about HIV/AIDS among these women and their families.

The programme “Strengthening the Economic Livelihoods Opportunities for Low-Income and HIV-Positive Women” was implemented in 12 provinces from 2011 to 2013, in close partnership with community-based organizations and the Cambodian Government.

Today, the programme has reached over 1,300 women, providing them with livelihood skills-training and grants to kick-start their own businesses, as well as health counselling and home-based care services.

Through self-help group meetings, they have also increased awareness of their basic rights and developed their abilities to advocate for those rights.

When Mom started the programme in 2011, she had no means of earning an income to support her two daughters. She soon signed up for pig-raising training and following its completion, received a USD 100 grant. She bought two young piglets and saved the rest. Selling her first pig allowed her to expand the business and buy four more.

Today Mom says she is happy with her job and has time to take care of her girls. She plans to spend the profits of her next pig sale on building a new house so that when it rains they will no longer have to go to her mother’s house for shelter. As a result of the programme, Mom and many women like her are now able to provide their children with schooling, food and medicine.