United Methodists Help Save Girls' and Women's Lives Through School and Literacy Programs
by Nancy CarterGlobally women and girls are becoming infected with HIV at a faster rate than men and boys. Nearly 50 percent of people with HIV/AIDS in the world are female, 57 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. A recent United Nations report says, "Despite this alarming trend, women know less than men about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and how to prevent infection, and what little they do know is often rendered useless by the discrimination and violence they face."1
The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) supports several programs around the world that address concerns of women, girls, and HIV/AIDS. A program in Zimbabwe pays school fees for the most vulnerable children so that they can get an education. Another program in Asia and the Pacific Islands trains Bible Women who are making a vital difference in their communities.
Staying in School Saves African Girls' Lives
Thirteen-year-old Margaret Masawi of Zimbabwe dreams of becoming a teacher. Young as she is, she heads a household and cares for her two younger brothers. Margaret and her brothers are three of the 980,000 children in Zimbabwe who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Their parents died four years ago.
In sub-Saharan Africa where Margaret lives, young women are becoming infected with HIV at a stunning rate-- 75 percent of the HIV-positive young people (ages 15-24) are female. Margaret, however, has a good chance of avoiding the same fate as her parents because of a United Methodist project that pays her school fees. Staying in school saves girls' lives. "The mere fact of being in school can help protect girls from infection, since girls in school show lower rates of sexual activity," a new United Nations report emphasizes.2
Since at least 1995, The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe has helped thousands of orphans whose parents have died of AIDS through "orphans trust" programs. The church's work has been supported with funding and expertise provided by GBGM, particularly through its units, Health & Welfare ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). In 2005, this life-saving work will be expanded, focusing especially on girls and children with disabilities. Girls, more often than boys, must drop out of school in order to care for family members and/or because their household can't afford to send all of their children to school. The expanded program will cover costs of primary and secondary education, including vocational skills training, for six years.
Formal education not only helps children to learn how prevent HIV infection but also to gain valuable life skills such as negotiation and analysing choices before acting.3 Schooling can also help to break the cycle of poverty, which is a significant factor in fueling the AIDS pandemic. New data suggests that, if all children received a complete primary education, as many as 700,000 cases of HIV in young adults could be prevented each year.4
Another obstacle in HIV prevention is a personal sense of hopelessness. By providing vital material and spiritual support to thousands of the most vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, United Methodists undergird them with faith and hope. A DVD movie "Generation of Hope," available free from UMCOR, highlights the resilience of Zimbabwean orphans who, with the help of United Methodists in their communities and around the world, struggle to keep their families together and make a future for themselves.
Bible Women Spread Literacy and Empower Communities
In order to reduce HIV infection in women, "Concrete action is necessary to prevent violence against women, and ensure access to property and inheritance rights, basic education and employment opportunities for women and girls," Dr. Peter Piot of UNAIDS has said. The "Bible Women" program of Women's Division of GBGM empowers women in many of the areas of concern that Dr. Piot has emphasized.
Bible Women are indigenous women who lead Bible studies while also teaching literacy in their communities. Literacy helps prevent HIV infection. Illiterate women can't even read simply written AIDS prevention posters and flyers. A 32-country study found that women with post-primary education were five times more likely than illiterate women to know facts about HIV/AIDS. Illiterate women, on the other hand, were four times more likely to believe that there is no way to prevent HIV infection.5
In addition to teaching the Bible and literacy, these dedicated women address urgent community concerns. The Women's Division trains them in key areas such as community-based health, domestic violence, income generation, and microcredit. A number of Bible Women, like Erlincy Rodriguez of the Philippines, have chosen to focus on health issues in their ministries, including HIV/AIDS. The aim of community-based health care is restore harmony with God, with family, with society, with nature, and with self. Erlincy uses a simple, learning-focused technique, to teach rural women how to make herbal bath soaps for their family and for income, use local plants as medicine, and prevent infection with HIV/AIDS.
The current Bible Women program revives a women's missionary societies program that began more than 100 years ago. Since November 2000, the Women's Division has trained 550 Bible Women from nine countries-- India, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa. It will soon expand to Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and, in cooperation with the Egyptian Coptic Church, to Egypt, Rwanda and Burundi.
Bible Women are empowering women around the world through teaching the Word and helping to create community programs of awareness, education, and human and economic development. In so doing, they help to reduce HIV infection even when they don't directly do AIDS education.
On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2004, the Rev. R. Randy Day, top executive of GBGM said, "The General Board of Global Ministries remains committed to active ministries of education and care in the area of HIV/AIDS. . . . We call upon all United Methodists and all Christians to devote their prayers, their means, and their service to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment.6
In Zimbabwe, Margaret Masawi (right), age 13 and now "head of the household," cooks for her two brothers. Four years ago, their parents died of AIDS-related causes a month apart. This year's focus is "Have You Heard Me Today? Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS." United Methodists are encouraged to participate in this annual observance. Credit: Andra Stevens/AU Today, 2004.
World AIDS Day 2004
World AIDS Day is December 1 every year. This year's focus is "Have You Heard Me Today? Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS." United Methodists are encouraged to participate in this annual observance.
The number of women living with HIV has risen in each region of the world over the past two years, with the steepest increases in East Asia, followed by Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to the AIDS Epidemic Update, released by the United Nations in November 2004. In the United States, AIDS disproportionately affects African American and Hispanic women. AIDS is one of the top three causes of death for African American women aged 35-44 years. For many women around the world, the main risk factor for acquiring HIV is the risk behavior of their male partners. The women are faithful but their male partners are not.
How Participate in These Programs
Observe World AIDS Day.
To support programs for African children affected by HIV/AIDS, please contribute to UMCOR Advance #982842, AIDS Orphans Trust and UMCOR Advance #101218, AIDS Awareness and Children Impacted by HIV/AIDS in Africa. Donors can place their checks written to UMCOR in the offering plate at a local United Methodist Church; mail their gifts to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115; or make a credit card donation by calling 1-800-554-8583.
The Bible Women program is supported by the undesignated giving program of United Methodist Women. By donating to the Pledge to Mission and other undesignated gift opportunities, participants support United Methodist Women's total program of mission, including Bible Women.
- Bible Women Spreading Word and Work Throughout Asia. Once used as a program of women's missionary societies more than 100 years ago, the Bible Women concept was reinvented in March 2001.
- Major Gift Assures Education for 2,000 AIDS Orphans. The gift-- about $3 million-- plus $500,000 from the General Board of Global Ministries, will cover costs of African childrens' primary and secondary education, including vocational skills training, for six years.
- World AIDS Day Observance. A resolution of The United Methodist Church.
1. Women and AIDS: Confronting the Crisis, a joint report from UNAIDS, UNFPA, and UNIFEM, 2004 [http://www.unfpa.org/hiv/women/report/]
2. Facing the Future Together: Report of the Secretary-General's Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, Advocacy Edition, July 2004, p. 10 [http://www.unaids.org/html/pub/publications/irc-pub06/jc380-facingfuture_en_pdf.pdf]
3. Women and AIDS: Confronting the Crisis, a joint report from UNAIDS, UNFPA, and UNIFEM, 2004 [Chapter 5, "Education," [http://www.unfpa.org/hiv/women/report/chapter5.html].
4. Women and AIDS: Confronting the Crisis, Chapter 5 cites The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) as the source of this data. GCE is a coalition of nonprofit education and religious organizations, teachers unions and children's advocates working to ensure that all children have the chance of a basic education. The web site for United States chapter is http://www.campaignforeducationusa.org/
5. Women and AIDS: Confronting the Crisis, Chapter 5.
6. "World AIDS Day," Statement by the Rev R. Randy Day, General Board of Global Ministries, November 28, 2004 [http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=2820].