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Annan spotlights women in Africa’s battle against AIDS and famine

Annan spotlights women in Africa’s battle against AIDS and famine

Shining the spotlight on the plight of women during African crises, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged that more attention be devoted towards saving these traditional caretakers as the continent currently battles the twin threat of famine and AIDS.

This deadly combination “is threatening the backbone of Africa – the women who keep African societies going and whose work makes up the economic foundation of rural communities,” the Secretary-General writes in an opinion piece that was published yesterday in The New York Times and today in the International Herald Tribune.

In famines before the AIDS crisis, women proved more resilient than men, the Secretary-General notes, adding that their survival rate was higher, and their coping skills were stronger. “Women were the ones that found alternative foods that could sustain their children in times of drought,” he says. “As droughts happened once a decade or so, women who had experienced previous droughts were able to pass on survival techniques to younger women. Women are the ones that nurture social networks that can help spread the burden in times of famine.”

But as AIDS is eroding the health of Africa’s women, it is eroding the skills, experience and networks that have kept their families and communities going, Mr. Annan says. “Even before falling ill, a woman will often have to care for a sick husband, thereby reducing the time she can devote to planting, harvesting and marketing crops,” he says. “When she dies, the household will risk collapsing completely, leaving children to fend for themselves.”

Because this crisis is different from past famines, the Secretary-General urges looking beyond relief measures of the past, such as merely shipping in food, to combining food assistance and new approaches to farming with treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS. He points to successful examples in countries throughout the African continent as proof that “there is reason to hope.”

“We can and must build on those successes and replicate them elsewhere,” Mr. Annan says. “For that, we need leadership, partnership and imagination from the international community and African governments. If we want to save Africa from two catastrophes, we would do well to focus on saving Africa’s women.”