Srim Phan had little to do with her time before she set up and a garment manufacturing unit in Cambodia. Called Modern Dress Sewing Factory, the unit today hires 30 people, 27 of whom are HIV positive. Phan is the general manager of the organisation.
Like Phan, P Kousalya set up a conceptual design and printing business in Chennai employing four persons who have tested HIV positive or have AIDS. Yet, the six-month-old enterprise has already recorded profits.
In addition, Kousalya has an enviable list of clients: she has designed logos for UN agencies, apart from pamphlets for NGOs, menus for local restaurants and catalogues for promoters.
Both enterprises are part of a UNDP-funded Women and Wealth Development programme to help HIV-positive women set up small, independent businesses to enable them to be financially independent.
“I now get a salary every month and can pay for my daughters’ education without having to worry about where the money will come from,” said Phan.
Women account for almost 40 per cent of HIV infection cases–the figure is 44 per cent for India. A majority of this are monogamous, married women who get infected by their husband. Once the husband dies of AIDS, many, like Kousalya, get thrown out of their homes when they also test HIV positive.
“My husband was a trucker and when he died in December, 2001, I was already very sick. I was not trained for anything and had no place to go. I soon found out that there were many other women in a similar situation,” said Kousalya.