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News and Resources

HIV Threatens Housing Security in Cameroon

News and Resources
By Veronique Kéna-Cohen, Rooftops Canada Intern


In Yaoundé, Cameroon, large red X’s painted by authorities mark where houses, businesses and even cars that will be destroyed by organized evictions and land clearing. Another more invisible threat haunts housing security in the country: HIV and AIDS.

I recently met with Mrs Bodo’s whose husband and child passed away, leaving her to agonize over the fear of getting tested for HIV. When her results returned positive, Mrs Bodo fell into a long legal battle with her mother-in-law to keep possession of her house. She is one of many women who, after becoming HIV+ or widowed by AIDS, see their basic human right to a decent place to live violated.
Some women are outright evicted, dispossessed or shunned from their marital home. Some are brought to court by their families who disclose their HIV status and then draw out legal battles in the hope the woman will pass away before a settlement is reached. A homeless HIV+ person is in a particularly precarious situation. She becomes more vulnerable to opportunistic infections and cannot adequately care for herself or her children. She may not be able to work and lose her job. Her children may need to care for her or work to support the family, sacrificing their basic education. The woman and her children are often plunged into extreme poverty.
CONGEH, Rooftops Canada’s partner in Cameroon, is working with the network of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) and a women’s group to raise public awareness of these struggles.  The network provides legal counsel to women living with HIV. Some of these women will be holding an education session during the 2008 World AIDS Day. This integrated approach focusing on the specific vulnerabilities of women, PLHAs and homelessness is raising awareness of the crucial links between housing and HIV and AIDS and stimulating new support for PLHAs
CONGEH is integrating this experience into developing Social Spaces as a reference point for community based support services. The social spaces create a circle of trust within communities, where people develop confidence and the ability to express themselves and their issues, especially around HIV and AIDS. They also help individuals and organizations to connect and look for ways to work together. The Gender, HIV/AIDS and Shelter (GSH) project of CONGEH has been supported both by Rooftops Canada and by the Canadian High Commission’s Gender and Development Fund. As an intern, I am supporting the development of the social spaces and the integration of the GSH approach.