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25.11.2004 General News

Women demand right to negotiate safe sex

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Accra, Nov. 25, GNA - Women leaders on Thursday suggested that a major way of cutting down the HIV/AIDS prevalence level among women was for them to have the right to negotiate safe sex.

They were speaking at a seminar on gender, violence and HIV/AIDS, organised by the Gender Centre to mark this year's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which fell on November 25.

Mrs Jane Okrah, Executive Director of Family Health Foundation, noted that cultural practices, which gave exclusive sexual rights to men and very little power to women to negotiate safe sex, had been identified as one of the major causes of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS.

Mrs Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, Executive Director of the Ark Foundation, said to ensure the safety of women in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, women ought to be given the power to decide, when, how and why to have sex.

She noted that it was not right for men to continue to make sexual decisions for women in whatever circumstance, whether marital or otherwise since several reports had shown that women were more susceptible to STIs and HIV/AIDS, especially.

Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye noted that despite the several actions against the violation of women's rights in this country, several communities continued with impunity to engage in practices such as Trokosi and sexual cleansing.

She argued that the fight against the violation of women's rights had been a daunting task due to lack of political will, saying that until the Government saw it necessary to pass the various bills that would give teeth to the fight, women's rights would only remain on paper.

Mrs Dorcas Cokah-Appiah, Executive Director of the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (Gender Centre), said the laws of the State as they stood now, did not empower a woman, who suspected her husband of having multiple partners and knew that it could put her in danger, to take the necessary steps to protect herself.

"How much longer are we as a people going to subsume the rights of more than half of the population under the rights of others.

"Women in Ghana demand that the Government of Ghana should offer us the protection that is due us as full citizens of this country,' she said.

The day forms part of a 16-day celebration of the International Day Against Violence Against Women, which runs from November 25 to December 10 and include World AIDS Day on December 1 and International Human Rights Day on December 10.

The workshop was attended by about 50 men and women from various women's groups, human and women's rights organisations and from the media.

The women leaders were of the view that the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill and other supporting bills such as the HIV/AIDS Bill into law, would give teeth to the fight for women's rights in the face of the HIV/AIDS scourge.

Mrs Okrah said available statistics showed that globally 36 million people were infected with HIV/AIDS and 55 per cent of the cases were females between the ages of 15 and 49.

She said 29.4 million out of the total global infection rate were in Sub-Saharan Africa. (Source: UN AIDS Program)

"A total of 3.5 million people contract HIV everyday worldwide, and according to Church World Report HIV/AIDS has killed more people than World Wars one and two and the Gulf War combined."

Mrs Okrah said the prevalence level among teenage girls was higher than teenage boys worldwide.

In Ghana, she noted that the prevalence ratio between females and males was two to one, saying that in 1987 the ratio was six to one.

"The current national prevalence rate is 3.6 per cent and as at September 2003, the cumulative total reported cases stood at 72,541, which represented only 30 per cent of estimated cases," she said.

She said 80 per cent to 85 per cent of infections were through heterosexual means (man infecting woman through sexual intercourse), 12 per cent to 15 per cent through vertical means (mother infecting child through birth or breast feeding) and two per cent through blood transfusion, infected needles and razors.

Mrs Okrah said both local and global statistics showed that women bore the brunt of the scourge of the HIV/AIDS, as they were more susceptible by nature and for socio-economic and socio-cultural reasons adding that these were enough reasons to put the power of women to negotiate safe sex in their own hands.

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