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Sunday 26 February 2006
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HIV/AIDS Feminisation: A new wine in an old bottle

Dear Diary,

Men have long held their dominance over women by creating a culture that defines what men do as being superior to what women do.

In the past this usually meant that the 'fairer sex' had to struggle for the same right to education, employment and property, but male dominance in the era of HIV/AIDS means that many women now also have to struggle for the right to life.

This is often true of developing countries, including as South Africa, where some communities still follow patriarchal laws that govern a women's place in society, as well as in sexual relationships.

Blatant sexist behaviour is proudly handed down through generations of men, like a treasured family heirloom, while medieval traditions and cultural practices continue to be reinforced by the public's seemingly limitless tolerance of sexual caste and class systems.

Research shows that women are more susceptible to HIV infection than men because they often find themselves with little or no space to negotiate safer sex with their male partners.

Some HIV-positive women are even frowned upon, or possibly murdered should they choose to go public about their own HIV status.

Gugu Dlamini, a South African health worker and AIDS activist, was stoned to death by a mob that included her own neighbours when she made her status public on World AIDS Day in 1998.

An estimated 1,500 daily infections were already occurring in South Africa at the time of Dlamini's death; today more than half the country's 5.6 million HIV-positive population are women.

Yet men seem to be hogging all the attention and resources being pumped into scientific advances against the virus.

Prof Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious diseases control epidemiologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says the catastrophic impact of HIV on South African women puts the country in an ideal position to carry some of the weight of ongoing international research into microbicides, which are specifically aimed at protecting women against HIV infection.

Presented in a variety of forms, including creams, gels and invisible sheaths, microbicides harness the natural ability of the vagina to ward off the possibility of infection during unprotected or forced sexual intercourse.

An effective microbicide could be ready in five to seven years but, unfortunately, very little interest and resources are being directed into what could be a veritable lifeline for the hundreds of thousands of women being infected and reinfected daily by their dominant male partners.

"There are no major companies willing to invest in this effort -only small biotech concerns. The sad thing is that if this research was for the benefit of men, there would certainly be more interest shown," Karim told delegates at the country's second international AIDS conference recently.

Karim's sentiments are not uniquely South African; they are shared by the renowned US feminist, Gloria Steinem, who once asked, "What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?"

In an article in October 1978, Steinem said, "Menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy and masculine event; it would be considered a symbol of fertility and virility, and there would be bragging about how much and how long a man's period was. Possibly also how often. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Although, of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi-Pads, and (US pro-footballer) Joe Namath Jock Shields for those light bachelor days."

Although published long before the advent of the AIDS pandemic, Steinem's article predicts with almost Nostradamus-like foresight just how much of a 'man's world' we still live in.

A debate on female virginity testing is raging in South Africa as I write. Supporters of the traditional practice claim they are doing it to protect women against HIV infection, while others view it as an infringement of the constitutional rights of girls.

The Commission on Gender Equality says the myth that you can prevent HIV/AIDS by testing girls is neither scientifically proven nor healthy.

It seems that the very cultures that define men as superior to women can be applied to all aspects of life - even when both men and women are visibly beaten down by HIV/AIDS, men still seem to feel the need to emerge as victors.

Have men become so blinded by the struggle for superiority over women that they would ultimately sentence them to death?

In my opinion, male dominance in the time of HIV/AIDS is really just old wine in a new bottle, and the impact of AIDS on women certainly suggests that perhaps it's time to uncork the absinthe with the same energy displayed by women at the height of the feminist movement in the seventies.

Forever Positive,
Hayden Horner

Previous Entry :: All Diary Entries :: Next Entry
Diary Entries
HIV/AIDS Coping Mechanisms: "What would a mayfly do?"
Beyond the Borders of HIV/AIDS Treatment Strategies
HIV/AIDS Feminisation: A new wine in an old bottle
Antiretrovirals - The Wind Beneath My Wings
The Mis-education of HIV/AIDS Clinicians
HIV Prevention 101: Ignoring the Church's views on condoms
Stigma and HIV/AIDS: lethal bedfellows
In remembrance of our women and children
Maids, madams and the "terrible thing"
Internet love and inter-related HIV-prejudice
Previously eyes-wide-shut on HIV and religion
Love, lies and disclosure
Black pot and blacker kettle
Things better left unsaid on the bus
Food for thought while waiting to die
Test results not all good
Diary speaks back
The truth about disclosure

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