Gender key in addressing AIDS epidemic

"In a community hall in South Africa's largest informal settlement, Soweto, about 20 men and women are seated in a semi-circle, talking about sex and gender roles. Working in groups, they have just completed two lists, one beginning "I'm glad to be a man/woman because ... " and the other, "If I were a man/woman I could ... " The "I'm glad I'm a man" list, compiled by the male group, includes, "because I can have multiple partners," while the women's "If I were a man" list says, "I could sleep around the way I want." The resulting discussion is heating up faster than the corrugated iron roof of the hall. "If a woman says 'no' to sex she's destroying her family because her husband will be forced to go outside for sex," one of the men says.

Dean Peacock...pointed out that so far AIDS awareness campaigns focusing only on women had proved redundant, as women were unable to negotiate safe sex with their male partners.

Research conducted in preparation for designing the MAP project revealed that 58 percent of the 2,000 South African men surveyed had never used a condom, despite 35 percent having previously had a sexually transmitted disease. More than half blamed women for provoking rape by the way they dressed or walking alone after dark, and 22 percent approved of a man beating his partner.

Peacock noted that these statistics were by no means unique to South Africa. "This is not an issue that's culturally or racially specific," he told IRIN. "I've done this work in Latin and North America and you find the same issues there."

Although there has been widespread acknowledgement of the connection between HIV/AIDS and violence against women, MAP is one of the few initiatives actively addressing the link. "

And yet. Here in the US we have our own federal administration editing world health organizations websites to make them remove information about the effectiveness of condoms, and the continued suggestion, even to married adults worldwide, and even in the face of constant sexual violence, that abstinence is the best answer to issues like HIV/AIDS.

EngdenderHealth and Planned Parenthood, sponsors of workshops like the above which are far more likely to have a positive impact than misinformation or abstinence pushes, are both organizations negatively impaced by the Global Gag Rule.