Imagine 100 of your Facebook friends in a room together. Now pick 20 of them . Next add in all of the mutual friends that you have with all 20 of those people. That is number of people in your circle of family and friends that would be HIV+ or be affected by the person that is HIV+ if you lived in sub-Saharan Africa.
Let's narrow in on women. 71% of the people living with HIV live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of those 23.5 million, 60% of them are women and adolescent women are the fastest growing group contracting the virus. Why? It's a complex issue with many variables and contributing factors. It's difficult to capture all that is related to this issue in one blog post (or ten) but this is what I am learning so far:
Women are at greater risk of being infected by HIV due to lack of education. 9/10 women in developing nations don't know they are HIV+. They have no knowledge of the symptoms or the modes of transmission.
So far, that makes sense, right? But wait. The main risk factor for contracting HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa is...
...wait for it....
Many cultures allow and even encourage men to have several partners outside of marriage but women have no control over their marital relations. It shouldn't come as surprise then, that in most poorer countries, women develop HIV and AIDS at ages nearly ten years younger than men. Many stories I have heard, some from this book detail the limited power women have to negotiate safe sex with their husbands who insist on not using a condom with their wives. Men generally consider it a right to have unprotected sex with the woman they are married to.
Further to that and as a result of that, women end up economically dependent on men, which results in transactional sex (I didn't even know that was a term until I started reading about this topic). Information and education are not enough if women are not in a position to have control over their own lives and bodies.
I talked last week about rising enrolment for girls in Kenya. But, in countries with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, enrolment has dropped as girls need to leave school to care for sick relatives.
The stigma attached to being HIV+ causes families to turn their backs on relatives and prevents people from being willing to be to tested. Myths and misinformation regarding HIV/AIDS is widespread. One I have heard several times is that having sex with a virgin cures one of HIV/AIDS. You can imagine what that leads to. Some people continue to deny the disease even exists.
Can you see how HIV/AIDS is almost a consequence of the underlying gender inequality issues? All of that information is overwhelming to me. I don't have any answers either.
If you would like further reading, there is great summary on women and HIV here and good general information here.
A perfect closing quote comes from anthropologist and activist Brooke Schoepf: "Unless the underlying struggles of millions to survive in the midst of poverty, powerlessness, and hopelessness are addressed, and the meanings of AIDS understood in the context of gender relations, HIV will continue to spread."
Sarah lives in Northern Ontario with her family. Sarah and her husband have four children, and one grandson. She is an avid reader and learner. In 2012, Sarah launched JustOne with Krista and travelled to Kenya, Uganda and South Africa together. Sarah has a blog we love to read called "Recipe for Messiness" that is about finding beauty amidst our messy lives.
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