In El Salvador, women leading the way in HIV/AIDS prevention

woman in El Salvador teaching about HIV
Angélica Méndez, trained to teach others about the prevention of HIV, is now a leader in her community in El Salvador. (Photo: Mauricio Martínez / UNDP in El Salvador)

Talking about sexuality in El Salvador is taboo, especially in rural areas, where access to information and education is limited.

Angélica Méndez, 33 years old, a resident of El Flor canton in Metapán in the north of the country, describes the situation with an example:  “A lady comes and says to me, 'They say that you are talking about one of those ... filthy issues.'  And it makes me laugh. I say yes, but it's good to learn. And she says, ‘Well, I am going through something like that ....' And gradually, it came out. In this way, they start to feel comfortable talking about it with me.”

Highlights

  • A project in El Salvador has helped train more than 15,300 rural women to teach their communities about HIV prevention, STIs and gender equity issues.
  • During 2013 alone, the project held 75 workshops in 20 municipalities throughout the country, reaching nearly 3,000 women.
  • The US $11 million project, which ran between 2009 and 2013, was supported by the Global Fund and Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR).

According to records of the Ministry of Health, there are 29,788 cases of HIV/AIDS in El Salvador. Of these cases, 11,186 affect women, of whom 23 percent are housewives. Many cases occur through direct infection by their partners, who contract the disease outside the home due to unprotected sex.

Angélica is one of 20 women in her canton who has been trained in awareness-raising on HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and gender equality. The training  was organized by the Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR) with support from the Global Fund and in partnership with UNDP.

Workshops were held as part of an education plan for rural women that UNDP implemented from 2009 to 2013 in coordination with various organizations.

Following the training, these women have become agents of change in their communities, where training and information received are replicated. More than 15,300 women across the country have participated in this programme, which was part of a decade-long strategy, developed jointly with the Ministry of Health, to combat HIV/AIDS.

Angélica is an example of the results. With the knowledge gained, she provides advice to the residents of her canton and organizes thematic advisory groups on HIV prevention, STIs and gender equity issues.

As a result, in the canton, between July and September 2013 alone, seven new HIV cases were detected. Six affected women, one of whom was a minor, and only one affected a man -- reflecting the vulnerability of the female population.

Indeed, one of the objectives is to understand why women are more vulnerable to infection. For this reason, it is important that women be informed about the issue, but also that men be involved this process, says Angélica.

"Sometimes men come. But since it is not the same [for them] to talk to a woman as they would man to man, they ask me for my husband and talk with him, who already knows the subject," she says.

During 2013 alone, the project held 75 workshops in 20 municipalities throughout the country, reaching nearly 3,000 women. They, in turn, are expected to raise awareness on the issue in their communities. Trends show that it only takes one woman to reach as many as 5,900 people.

"This is a way of seeing how we help individual learn about the issue. I can’t solve their problems in the home, but, yes, I can talk to the women and share my experience," Angelica says.