Martine Somda born Dakuyo
This profile was prepared when Martine Somda born Dakuyo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
HIV/AIDS-infected women often lose their households and sometimes their husbands, and are frequently dispossessed of their property by their in-laws. As a result, they find themselves on their own, fighting the disease while trying to find sustenance for their children, whom nobody wants to take care of. Often, the services they receive from government programs and non-profit organizations fail to address many of the social ramifications they face as a result of their HIV-positive status. The main drive of Martine’s approach to the HIV/AIDS response is her belief that women will only be successful if and when they themselves are in charge of the conception, advocacy and delivery of programs. She believes that wherever decisions affecting women living with HIV are being made, women should be represented as stakeholders. Martine’s work is new in its shift in focus from the purely health-related aspects of AIDS intervention, to the empowerment of women through a variety of means, particularly economically. Her approach includes traditional methods, such as providing a package of services covering the whole range of needs of People Living With AIDS (PLWAs), and fostering a community to promote solidarity and mutual support. However, Martine takes this work a step further by devoting much of her time to helping women take part in sustainable activities, including income-generating and self-employment projects, depending on their skill, interest, and geographic location. By enabling HIV-positive women to overcome the stigmatization and discrimination they face and become stakeholders in society, Martine hopes to improve their living conditions and ease the social burden they bear. This perception shift is significant because it views women not as victims of the disease, but rather as equal and full citizens, and Martine hopes other West African countries will adopt this mentality to their own HIV programs, as well as those related to other marginalized populations.