Cambodian women with HIV receive boost from fashion designer and UN agency

4 September 2008

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), renowned fashion designer Bibi Russell and Cambodian women living with HIV have joined forces to launch a new line of contemporary bags.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), renowned fashion designer Bibi Russell and Cambodian women living with HIV have joined forces to launch a new line of contemporary bags.

The products from the new label called “Bibi for WE” will be produced and marketed by the Modern Dress Sewing Factory (MDSF), an all-women network of HIV-positive Cambodian women.

“If you join hands with women living with HIV with affection and confidence, they can create magic with their fingers,” said Ms. Russell, who also has been designated as an Artist for Peace by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and founded “Fashion for Development” which seeks to help weavers and women spanning the globe.

The bags – contemporary in style and using local materials such as Cambodian silk – will be sold worldwide, and Ms. Russell is training women taking part in the initiative in material selection, design, finishing and quality control.

“We don’t want sympathy, but support to live a life of respect and dignity,” said Pham Srim, MDSF’s Business Manager.

Severe poverty, stigma and discrimination has hindered efforts to make a living, and persistent health problems have exacerbated the problem, she said.

“This project helps us to stand on our feet, earn a living and stay unfazed by the stigma and discrimination staring on our face,” Ms. Srim added.

The new brand is part of a larger UNDP-supported initiative called “Women and Wealth” in Cambodia and India which seeks to empower women living with HIV through small-scale social enterprises. In India, MDSF’s counterpart is Social Light Communications focusing on communication design and print production.

Nearly one-third of HIV-positive adults in Asia are women, and they are disproportionately affected by the epidemic both economically and socially, according to UNDP.

 

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