1. Programmes that lead to improvements in the status of women open up the possibility of improvement in all dimensions of their lives. Such programmes include literacy training, women-focused health services and credit schemes. They increase women’s cash contribution to the household and set in motion specific dynamics that improve their status within the household and in the community. They increase women’s confidence, self-esteem and sense of empowerment.
2. The empowerment of women through whatever type of programme has major implications for the prevention of HIV. Such programmes could potentially: provide a basis for self assertion and negotiation of safer sex; increase women’s receptivity to HIV prevention and other health promotion messages; increase motivation and skills to engage in self protective behaviours; increase ability to break cultural barriers/taboos and discuss sexuality and HIV/STD prevention measures (this applies particularly to women as wives and mothers); improve the standard of living for the family, because of women’s contribution to the household income, and their greater ability to communicate and to negotiate.
3. Women-oriented health services (holistic and integrated) can contribute to women’s empowerment through a greater awareness and concern for their own health status and not just that of their children. A programme that combines a 40-day check-up for infants, with a health examination for the mothers and provision of contraceptives, and that provides these at the same time and same place leads to increased contraceptive use (including condoms) and improved follow-up rates for health check-ups.
4. Literacy training can be an effective vehicle for transmitting messages about health, including STD/HIV. Participation in such programmes can generate attitudinal and behavioural changes that have a protective effect (such as developing negotiation skills, becoming less shy and more assertive and communicative), including an improvement in relationships with partners.
5. Programmes that increase women’s ability to earn income through the provision of small loans can increase their self-confidence and assertiveness as well as their status in the family and community. A credit programme that is comprised of groups of women, and insists on allegiance to certain principles including strict adherence to repayment schedules, can provide opportunities for women to meet with others and develop an identity, and to gain experience in interacting with men and with authority figures outside of the family. These are particularly important steps forward for women who live in societies where their status is very low and they are subjected to numerous restrictions, for example, on their mobility, economic security, involvement in decision-making and relative freedom from domination in the family.
6. Experience from programmes targeted at women in an effort to improve their health, educational and economic status suggests that they often lead to greater male interest - both positive and negative. However, appropriate efforts to overcome male resistance and involve them (if appropriate) can be successful, and where men are supportive, an opportunity for reaching them with a variety of messages exists.