Sexual Cultures and Migration in the Era of AIDS: Anthropological and Demographic Perspectives

By Gilbert Herdt | Go to book overview

may mean that refugee women have little or no control over the kinds of sexual practices which place them at risk. This lack of control, however, is relative and the experience ranges from a woman being forcibly raped in conflict to a refugee girl negotiating sex in her new country of asylum. Although refugee women gain increasing control as they move towards greater safety, as shown in the case of Damdy, their lack of self-esteem and general uprootedness may lead them to employ risk rather than survival behaviors. Young women, in particular, may have little experience, and therefore, expectation, that they can affect their lives and that their decisions matter. Many young refugee women have experienced years of social upheaval and uprooting during which time their own needs and desires may have been sacrificed for the survival of their family and/or community. In the process, their own self-esteem may have been sacrificed.

The stories of individual refugee women across different stages of refugee experiences illustrate the complexities of designing effective and meaningful HIV/AIDS prevention and control programmes in most refugee situations. There are no quick and obvious solutions, nor are one-time interventions sufficient. Providing more information, for example, is useful but refugee women may not be in a position to act on that information. Providing condoms, and especially a female condom, should be a part of any emergency assistance operation but many refugee women cannot insist that soldiers--particularly those from an opposing side--utilize condoms.

These stories illustrate that notions of empowerment are meaningless in many refugee settings unless the underlying sources of conflict are directly addressed. War must be stopped and soldiers must stop using sexual violence as a weapon of war. But, since such recommendations are at best idealistic, there is a need to find ways of holding perpetrators accountable and of healing those who have suffered. In a time of AIDS these concerns are all the more compelling. While many refugee women who have been violated may never live to learn whether they have contracted AIDS, for others the discovery that they have may be the cruellest irony.


REFERENCES

Agar A. and W. Agar ( 1991), "'A case study of refugee women in Malawi'", Report for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Malawi.

Anderson B. ( 1991), Imagined Communities, Verso, London.

Anthony R. et al. ( 1993), "'Assistance for victims of atrocities in Croatia and BosniaHerzegovina'", Report for the Europe Bureau, US Agency for International Development, Washington, DC.

Black M. E. ( 1993), "'Reproductive freedom for refugees'", Letter in Lancet, May 15, 341) (8855), 1285.

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