June / July  2005





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Surabhi Khosla

Powerful ad campaign…" I care for you. Why don’t you care for me? "

The fact that over 19 lakh women in India are living with HIV AIDS is setting off alarm bells in the Indian medical fraternity – especially since more than 90percent of these are married women in monogamous relationships…


-More married women in India are at risk of getting AIDS than sex workers

-India is about to be hit by the worst AIDS epidemic in the world

-Research groups are now calling AIDS in India ‘a woman’s disease’

It is easy to misjudge the challenge of HIV/AIDS. Rarely perceived as a major public health issue in India, AIDS has taken on nightmarish proportions in recent years. The large population, low literacy and even lower levels of awareness has made AIDS one of the most challenging public health problems ever faced by the country.

The rising number of women (over 1.9 million at the last count) afflicted with AIDS is setting off alarm bells in the Indian medical fraternity – especially since more than 90 percent of these are married women and are in a monogamous relationship.

In the light of these statistics, Breakthrough, a human rights organisation has launched a media campaign titled What Kind Of Man Are You? The campaign highlights the rising incidence of married women infected by the AIDS virus by their husbands.

Crusade Against AIDS

As part of the crusade against AIDS, popular television stars Mandira Bedi and Samir Soni have joined hands with Breakthrough and both feature in a music video, Maati. sung by Shubha Mudgal, Maati talks about a pregnant woman who discovers she is HIV positive because of her husband’s promiscuity.

Apart from this, Breakthrough has been organizing various workshops to provide sex education to the general public. It also has an SMS facility through which people’s queries are answered, informing them about the treatment and care for the infected.

The organisation has also launched an intensive multimedia campaign to focus public attention on the growing problem of HIV AIDS. The message is being conveyed through music videos, eye catching advertisements in newspapers, radio and television that are being directed by renowned adman Prasun Joshi. The different visuals have the same theme - a woman asking her husband to protect her by using a condom.

The campaign aims to empower women in an exceedingly patriarchal society, enabling them to discuss sexuality freely with their husbands and encouraging the use of condoms among men.

Negotiating Safe Sex

According to Mallika Dutt, founder and executive director Breakthrough, "It’s a challenge for any woman to negotiate safe sex with her husband. Many times the request for a condom may be interpreted as an accusation of promiscuity against the husband. Our campaign helps married women to understand the need for safe sex and how to voice their opinion."

Both Sameer Soni and Mandira Bedi feel that the responsibility and the guilt that a man feels on infecting his innocent wife, is brought out beautifully in the video, directed by Arjun Bali.. "The fact that television and music are so popular with the masses will help spread the message much faster in a populated country like India, than workshops and prevention measures targeting small groups of people," says Soni.

Until recently HIV education programmes targeted only the high-risk population such as truck drivers, drug users and sex workers but the reality is that an increasing number of married women are at risk. They are ignorant about the dangers they face and hence are easy targets of infection.

Most Indian women are completely uninformed about sex and sexual health practices at the time of marriage. Under great pressure to produce children (particularly sons), the use of condoms and other contraceptives does not arise. The low economic and social status of women renders them unable to have much of a say in sex and thus, they cannot suggest the use of a condom which in turn can lead to their becoming infected with the HIV virus.

Cultural practices and outdated beliefs still plague the Indian society and there is rampant discrimination against women. A woman is labelled "immoral and loose" if detected with the deadly virus. Subjected to ill treatment and isolation of the worst kind, these women are faced with no family support, loss of job opportunities and an extremely low economic status.

Worse, there is lack of access to treatment and medical facilities for these women.

Besides they can also be subject to increased violence. Voiceless, disgraced and ostracized, these women sometimes end up being branded as untouchables or worse being killed by their own family members

Preventive Measures

In India sex is rarely discussed openly. However it is important to educate and inform the people. According to many health experts, the future course of AIDS in Asia will be set by India's example. Sex education in schools to promote the magnitude of safe sex is essential. Yet over 42 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls of 15 years and older do not go to school. To educate them mass media drives and sex education workshops for the general public are essential.

Allopathic medicines like AZT used in combination with other drugs form the main treatment for AIDS related diseases. Also early diagnosis and effective treatment can help in prolonging life expectancy.

Research is currently underway for a cure and to develop effective and cheaper female condoms that will put the power of protection against HIV in the woman’s hands. But until then the only way to contain the spread of the disease is cooperation by the male partner.

Says Mallika Dutt, "India needs to follow the example of Brazil in aggressively pursuing AIDS prevention and treatment as the country is on the edge of a pandemic that might make India resemble one of those African nations where one in three people is afflicted with the deadly HIV AIDS virus.





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