Promoting self-empowerment of HIV-positive women in Congo


A project in Congo is helping HIV-positive women start businesses and join associations for social and financial support. ©UNDP in Congo

Léocadie, a widow and a mother of four children, is unable to forget the night when her life was torn apart.

Highlights

  • Over 800 HIV-positive women received financial, technical and material support to start business initiatives
  • More than 10,000 women and girls have been made aware of the risk of HIV/AIDS through multimedia facilities, libraries and information centers.
  • The project is funded by the government of South Korea and UNDP for $950,000 for a period of 4 years.

"A group of armed men entered our home and raped me in front of my family," she relates between sobs.

After an initial test, Léocadie found out that she was HIV positive and fell into a state of depression. Supported by a social worker, she ended up by becoming a member (albeit one with some reservations) of an association for individuals living with HIV.

A Congolese government programme provided Léocadie with free access to anti-retroviral drugs but she did not have the wherewithal to ensure her own access to a healthy diet.

"It was a great relief when we received help from the UNDP," recalls Léocadie, who has now begun to enjoy the benefits of a project co-financed by the South Korean government and the UNDP.

Implemented in 2008, the programme sets out to reduce the psycho-social and economic impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls, in line with 4 specific objectives: reducing the risk of HIV infection; fighting social stigma and discrimination; combating the poverty that besets HIV positive women by helping them to launch business initiatives; and promoting access to economic and legal services.

At the end of 2012 more than 800 HIV positive women had received financialsupport in the form of reimbursable micro-credits and technical and material support to assist them in engaging in an income-generating activity. We decided to empower the beneficiaries in order to make the project sustainable," explains Guy Saizonou, the programme’s director. "We make interest-free loans in the amount of US $200 and advise women on what activities to choose, while making sure that the choices they make are truly viable ones. And, he adds, "These beneficiaries garner all the benefits but pay back the principal which is then used to benefit other women.

Less than a year after having established a business that sells mattresses, soaps and various foodstuffs, Léocadie and her friends have been successful in repaying their loans and are now financially independent. This freedom has enabled these women to enjoy a new-found status in society and to be regarded as voices of wisdom within their respective families.

"It is important that people know that nowadays those who are HIV positive can lead normal lives; says Léocadie, who is keen to challenge the taboos linked to HIV.

In the pursuit of this goal, UNDP’s initiative has also made possible the implementation of 3 "cyberforums" for women and girls, provided with multi-media rooms, libraries and offices providing information on HIV/AIDS. More than 10,000 women and girls have also been made aware of the risk of HIV/AIDS through information sessions and forums for discussion and debate.

The rate of HIV/AIDS seroprevalence has gone down from 4.1 per cent in 2003 to 3.2 per cent in 2009, but we still need to be watchful," Lamin Manneh, the UNDP’s Resident Representative in Congo, emphasizes.