HIV/AIDS in the informal economy : an analysis of local government's role in addressing the vulnerability of women street traders in Durban.
The study was motivated by a concern for the high vulnerability of poor African women to HIV/AIDS in South Africa and an understanding of their role in the growing informal trade sector in Durban. As the institution responsible for managing informal trade development, this study examines the role of local government in addressing AIDS vulnerability and impact within this economic sector. Local government in South Africa is at the centre of potentially conflicting policy agendas: promoting citizen participation in social and economic development while creating an efficient and competitive local economy. The research outlines how the challenge of meeting these divergent goals has influenced policy approaches to informal trade and the extent to which these constrain or support women traders and their enterprises. The study examines how this in turn influences their economic vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The study also explores the institutional attitudes and current approaches to addressing HIV/AIDS in the informal trade sector and explores the potential for a targeted and integrated response. In-depth interviews with local government staff and external stakeholders were used to investigate institutional perspectives on the significance of HIV/AIDS and the importance of creating appropriate local level interventions within informal trade settings. Interviews also assessed current management and support strategies for informal trade and examined whether these create an enabling environment for women to protect themselves and their enterprises against the threat and impact of HIV/AIDS. Interviews were supported by an extensive review of gender and HIV/AIDS literature and analysis of relevant policy regarding informal economy and SMME development in South Africa. The study found that the multiple pressures on local government, as well as institutional restructuring and staff changes have inhibited progress towards implementing an effective management strategy for informal trade. A lack of regulation threatens the security and livelihoods of survivalist women traders, and high barriers to obtaining permits to trade impact negatively on women due to their multiple constraints and responsibilities. The study revealed that priority in providing holistic business support, including skills development and financial services, is skewed towards more profitable enterprises which has excluded most women traders. This has restricted women's productive capacity and enterprise development and heightened their economic vulnerability to HIV infection and impact. This is compounded by a lack of functional, representative organisations to convey the concerns of marginalised female traders to local government. It is likely that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in informal markets in Durban is high. However, stigma and discrimination has prevented widespread disclosure. The vulnerability of women and the impact of HIV/AIDS on their enterprises and local economic development is recognised by staff working at street level, but not by key decision makers. This, in conjunction with the marginalisation of the sector as a whole, has influenced the lack of progress in developing a co-ordinated multidisciplinary response to HIV/AIDS among informal workers. Few interventions which directly address HIV/AIDS have been put in place in the informal workplace, largely because of a lack of understanding of the crisis; its conceptualisation as a health issue only; and the fixed location of local government's response within the health department. Acknowledging the resource and capacity constraints within local government, the study concludes by outlining a series of realistic potential interventions which can be mainstreamed within the standard functions of local government. A shift in thinking is required to conceptualise AIDS as a workplace issue, and recognise the significance of its economic impact. Women traders need to be considered as valuable and vulnerable workers, as well as mothers and carers and therefore as an important group for targeted HIV/AIDS interventions. The study calls for gender-sensitive measures to be implemented, which recognise the specific needs and constraints of women in the informal trade sector.
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