Sparked Women: Local Business Solutions for Better Health

Sparked Women: Local Business Solutions for Better Health

Economic empowerment and HIV

It is recognised that HIV prevention and treatment efforts require not just a clinical approach but also need to address structural determinants. Economic empowerment is an effective strategy in doing that and reducing people’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.

Why economic empowerment

Poverty continues to pose major challenges to HIV prevention efforts, with poverty being both a cause and effect of HIV:

  • Poverty often leads to a day-to-day outlook on life, focused on survival. In these circumstances, people are less concerned about engaging in risk behaviour and less motivated and equipped to protect themselves from HIV.
  • Poverty increases the vulnerability to the progression of HIV due to the lack of access to resources, services and good nutrition.
  • In turn, HIV impoverishes people, as it reduces their ability to work and earn an income, while their expenditures increase due to medical care costs.
  • At macro level, HIV causes impoverishment through the loss of human capital. This is not only a result of direct labour force losses. It also causes lost capacity to develop and utilize the human capabilities needed for social and economic development in a country. For instance, children in HIV-affected households face multiple challenges in their access to schooling. 

How do economic empowerment programmes work

The starting point for economic empowerment programs is to provide access to financial products and resources, such as credit, savings and employment. Economic assets can increase economic security, self-esteem and enhance long-term planning. This has a positive influence on a person’s attitudes about risk behaviour.

 

However, economic empowerment requires more than just access to resources. The person accessing them must also have the authority and opportunities to control and use those resources. Programs that provide skills building such as business planning, management, communication and negotiation skills, can lead to increased autonomy and decision making. Participation in group-based programs also has the effect of reducing isolation and building social capital.

 

In the context of HIV, the assets, skills and social connections forged by economic empowerment programs can help lower vulnerability to HIV both in terms of reducing risks and building resilience.

Economic empowerment programmes of Aidsfonds

Aidsfonds has several programmes on economic empowerment of key populations, including women, girls, young people, and sex workers:

  • In Sparked Women young women are trained in easily replicable skills to start their own business, such as making books, liquid soap, reusable pads, and baking cakes. This is combined with marketing skills trainings and the establishment of support groups. By mid-2018, in total 15,500 girls will have been trained in these skills.
  • Sparked Women also includes another business model, which is used in the GUSO Flexi programme too. In this second model, women are being trained in providing health information and selling over the counter health products. These women are not only earning an income, but they are also able to bring health services and SRHR education closer to their communities. By mid-2018, over 1,800 Community Health Entrepreneurs will have been trained in Uganda and Kenya.
  • In the Proud Partner programme in Ethiopia, people living with HIV could join saving groups. They also received gardening skills to cultivate crops on commonly owned land.  These interventions not only aimed at helping them earning an income and saving money, but also at strengthening networks and social cohesion within their communities.
  • In the Stepping Up, Stepping Out programme partners provided vocational trainings, establishing saving groups, and offering micro-financing, to sex workers. As part of this programme, Aidsfonds developed a basic financial skills training for sex workers. The training was developed together with experts on micro-financing, academic researchers, training specialists and most importantly, sex workers themselves, taking into account their specific realities. In total over 30,000 sex workers were reached with economic empowerment activities during the programme in 11 countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

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