HIV/Aids Prevention Strategies Are Sexist and Disempower Women

Cape Times (South Africa), February 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

HIV/Aids Prevention Strategies Are Sexist and Disempower Women


BYLINE: MELANIE JUDGE

HIV prevention strategies that command the most funding and primacy are male-controlled - the male condom and male circumcision. The extent to which male sexuality decides and acts is central to both these prevention approaches. It is men who use condoms, and women who negotiate their use. This emphasis is neither value-free nor coincidental. It is the result of a confluence of the gender prejudice and gender priorities that shape dominant HIV/Aids discourses and responses.

The fact that women are the most infected and affected world-wide because of gender power relations, should proffer an approach that places women at the centre of the HIV prevention response. The reality is - despite how much we know about gender as a vector of transmission and women's social, biological and economic vulnerability to HIV risk - that we have not prioritised female-controlled preventative measures.

Two such methods are female condoms and microbicides. The former has the potential to facilitate a much needed shift of control over HIV prevention from men to women.

However, their high price and the lacklustre approach to making female condoms accessible, as well as the negative social perceptions associated with their use, have undercut their potential as a powerful protective tool for women.

There is also promising research on microbicides - which are easy to administer and, given the fact that they may not be visible, the need for negotiating use with a male partner is minimised.

This failure to prioritise female-controlled preventions is a lost opportunity to transform gender power relations - which create the very conditions in which HIV/Aids flourish. To the contrary, much of mainstream prevention responses reveal just how existing gender and sexual relations have been entrenched.

By example, the ABC approach is underpinned by dangerous assumptions related to women's sexuality, monogamy and gender equality.

Take the married woman who is faithful to a husband, and who knows he has multiple partners but cannot negotiate condom use due to economic dependency and fear of violence in the relationship. Are we to assume or hope that she will manoeuvre around the contextual barriers that both shape her HIV risk and stymie her sexual agency and choice?

In this sense, HIV - which follows the path of least resistance - forces us to confront the power at play in real life sexuality. The epidemic is the window into the complex factors that render persons without the power to be safe. …

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HIV/Aids Prevention Strategies Are Sexist and Disempower Women
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