What I’m actually doing in Chennai…

(The above photo is of some of the POLL staff members at a project review meeting in December 2010.)

I’ve been working at Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII) now for about three months and I think it’s about time I share a bit about what I’ve been up to so far. (Despite the fact that I’ve not yet blogged about my job, I’ve actually been working a lot.)

The bulk of my time at work has been spent working with a project entitled “Empowering Women Infected with and Affected by HIV/AIDS through Property Ownership and Legal Literacy,” or POLL for short. SAATHII is carrying out the POLL project in partnership with the Positive Women’s Network (PWN+). The project is a three-year endeavor funded by the EU (January 1st 2011 marks the start of year two.) The project’s target population is women infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS (WIAHIV). The primary objective of the project is to educate and empower WIAHIV about their basic rights, and specifically, legal remedies related to denial of property inheritance and for gender-based violence.

I’m guessing you are wondering the same thing I was about three months ago…  why is an organization focused on HIV/AIDS conducting a project about property inheritance and other legal issues… isn’t this outside their direct scope of interest?

Some basic information about HIV in India:

India has the third highest HIV burden in the world. As of 2008-2009, the HIV prevalence rate was estimated to be .29%, or in actual numbers, there were an estimated 2.27 million people (22.7 lakhs) living with HIV in India.[1]

In the Indian context, the high-risk populations include: men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and transgenders (TG), female sex workers (FSW), and intravenous drug users (IDU).  People who have sex partners in these high-risk populations and also have other sexual partners are known as the bridge population. For example, a man who has sexual intercourse with a FSW (high-risk population) and also has intercourse with his wife (general population) acts as a bridge between these two populations.[1]

Unlike in the United States, where the most common HIV transmission category is male-to-male sexual contact,[2] in the Indian context, heterosexual intercourse accounts for 87.1% of HIV transmissions, and men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) account for only 1.5% of HIV transmissions.[1]

This means that many women become infected with HIV by their husband. Numerous women in a study conducted by the International Center for Research on Women said that the HIV status of their husband was withheld prior to marriage. One respondent said the following:

The day after I was married, I noticed my husband taking many pills. When I asked my mother-in-law, she told me my husband was unwell because of the pressures of marriage. When he became critically ill, my father-in-law took him to Mumbai for some tests and I insisted on joining them. The doctor in Mumbai refused to talk to my father-in-law and asked for me… that is when I knew that his status was known even before marriage. Their family doctor later told me that the whole family knew his status and despite the doctor’s advice still went ahead with marriage. –positive widow, age 28, India[3]

It is estimated that just under 40% of people living with HIV in India are female and the HIV epidemic in India is feminizing. [4]

Why the POLL project is being implemented (connection between HIV and property):

Women who are infected with or affected by HIV often face challenges that are unique to women. One of these unique challenges relates to living situation and property rights.

After marriage, a common practice is that a woman will go to live with her husband and his family and she will be considered a member of his family. If the husband dies from AIDS, the wife is often expelled from the marital home. After being expelled from her home, a woman must either return to her natal family, or when this is not possible, find a way to live on her own. In a 2005 study, only 10% of HIV positive widows were living in their marital home, and nearly 79% of HIV positive widows had been denied a share in the family property after the death of their husband.[4]

Many WIAHIV are unaware of their rights related to property inheritance, or even if they are aware, they are unable to claim their share. Property ownership can be both economically and socially empowering, and thus it is highly beneficial for WIAHIV.

My project related responsibilities:

Thus far, my involvement with POLL has primarily been with a baseline study of WIAHIV in the states of Orissa, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. I have been working closely with a colleague who has been analyzing the quantitative data obtained from semi-structured questionnaires, and I have been analyzing the qualitative data obtained from focus group discussions and key informant interviews. Together, we are compiling the data and drafting the mixed-method baseline report, and have submitted an abstract of this work to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law for inclusion in their upcoming Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue.

I recently had a chance to travel and observe two project-related training sessions. This field visit opportunity raised some questions related to domestic violence that I plan to bring up in a future post.

[1] NACO Annual Report-


[2] CDC Basic Statistics-


[3]Women’s Property Rights as an AIDS Response: Emerging Efforts in South Asia- http://www.icrw.org/publications/womens-property-rights-aids-response-emerging-efforts-south-asia

[4] Gender Impact of HIV and Aids in India-


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