Africa: Women, Men, and AIDS, 08/17/03

AFRICA ACTION Africa Policy E-Journal August 17, 2003 (030817)

Africa: Women, Men, and AIDS (Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains two new reports, one a case study from Uganda by Human Rights Watch on the impact of domestic violence in increasing the threat to women from HIV/AIDS, the other a report from a conference of NGOs and health experts in Southern Africa on how to engage men in the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

A wide variety of additional resources on gender and AIDS can be found at the UNIFEM web portal Gender and HIV/AIDS:

Another posting today has a speech - "My Access to Life" by Mrs. Morolake Nwagwu of the Treatment Action Movement, Nigeria, given at an NGO symposium in Japan in preparation for TICAD III (The Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development), which will take place at the end of September,

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Note from E-Journal Editor:

Today's two postings are the last for this month. The E-Journal will resume in early September, shortly before the World Trade Organization Ministerial Summit in Cancun (September 10-14). The summit, which takes place every two years, comes four years after Seattle and two years after Doha. While demonstrations at the site will be dominated by groups from Mexico and other countries in the Americas, African and other developing countries have made strong statements opposing the undemocratic procedures and positions adopted on many issues by the U.S. and European countries. For summaries of recent developments and the positions of African countries, see in particular updates from the Third World Network [ and] - William Minter


Human Rights Watch (

August 13, 2003

Uganda: Domestic Violence Worsens AIDS Battered Women Face Greater Vulnerability to HIV

[full report available at: The report is available at:]

(Kampala, August 13, 2003) -- The Ugandan government's failure to protect women from domestic violence and discrimination increases women's risk of contracting HIV, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 77-page report, "Just Die Quietly: Domestic Violence and Women's Vulnerability to HIV in Uganda," documents widespread rape and brutal attacks on women by their husbands in Uganda, where a specific domestic violence law has not been enacted and where spousal rape is not criminalized.

"The Ugandan government's failure to address domestic violence is costing women their lives," said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "Any success Uganda has experienced in its fight against HIV/AIDS will be short-lived if the government does not address this urgent problem."

Many women told Human Rights Watch that a fear of violent repercussions impeded their access to HIV/AIDS information, HIV testing, and HIV/AIDS treatment and counseling.

Lydia Mpachibi (not her real name), a thirty-five-year old, HIV-positive widow living in Tororo, in eastern Uganda told Human Rights Watch that while her husband was alive she avoided HIV/AIDS testing or information because she was afraid that he would evict her. "I wouldn't dare because if I was HIV- positive, he would say I brought the virus into the home," Mpachibi said. "I have seen very many women being chased away by their husbands...I was scared of being thrown out."

The Human Rights Watch report says that HIV/AIDS programs focusing on fidelity, abstinence, and condom use do not account for the ways in which domestic violence inhibits women's control over sexual matters in marriage. The U.S. government has proposed a dramatic increase in such programs as a way of combating AIDS in Africa.

Programs focusing on fidelity, abstinence, and condom use minimize the complex causes of violence, and incorrectly assume that women have equal decision-making power and status within the family.

"Being married should not be a death sentence for Ugandan women," said Jefferson. "Women should not have to give up their rights to physical security and sexual autonomy just because they get married."

Human Rights Watch urged the Ugandan government to enact domestic violence legislation, and to make women's health, physical integrity, and equal rights in marriage a central focus of AIDS programming.

For more than a decade, Ugandan women's rights advocates have urged Uganda to enact legislation addressing domestic relations and the rape and battery of women by their intimate partners. Yet for years, the bills have languished in parliament.

Donor assistance to Uganda for HIV/AIDS continues to be considerable. Uganda is included among fourteen countries slated to receive five years of AIDS program support from the United States. The exact amount of U.S. aid that Uganda will ultimately receive remains unclear.

In February, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria signed a grant worth over U.S.$36 million to support Uganda's ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. Human Rights Watch urged the Global Fund, the U.S. government, the World Bank, and other donors to ensure that AIDS-prevention programs specifically target domestic violence, including sexual violence in marriage, as core components of their strategies.

Cases of Ugandan Women Featured in the report: (Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy)

Hadija Namaganda's HIV-positive husband raped and beat her viciously. During one brutal attack, he even bit off her ear. When he lay dying of AIDS and was too weak to beat her anymore, he ordered his younger brother to continue beating her. Namaganda, now HIV-positive, told Human Rights Watch: "He used to force me to have sex with him after he became ill. If he wanted to, he would force me and accuse me of having other men. He said he would cut me up and throw me out. I didn't know about condoms. We didn't use them."

Harriet Abwoli, thirty, found out that she was HIV-positive when she became pregnant with her second husband's child. She told Human Rights Watch, "When I gave birth and the child had passed away they told me I was HIV-positive. I cried. The doctor told me, `wipe your tears, the whole world is sick.' The very first time I asked my second husband to use a condom because I didn't want to give birth he said no. He used force and I got pregnant. That's the child that died. That was when we first met. I'm with him because I don't have a cent. He at least pays the rent."


MEN, HIV & AIDS regional conference 2003

Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa/VSO

Posted August 7, 2003 on Aids-Africa


Executive Summary by Mercedes Sayagues

Full conference report available at:

"Besides deep changes in society, what we need is a deeply spiritual transformation in the identity of men."

This statement by a participant sums up the debates at a conference on MEN, HIV & AIDS organised in Pretoria by the Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa (RAISA) of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) between 11-13 February 2003. Seventy-one participants, mostly from Southern African countries with a few from East and West Africa, examined how to engage men in the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In the region, national adult HIV prevalence has risen, says UNAIDS, "higher than thought possible, exceeding 30% in Botswana (38.8%), Lesotho (31%) and Zimbabwe (33.7%)." Namibia follows (22.5%), Zambia (21.5%) and Malawi (15%). South Africa's estimated 13% prevalence translates into 4.5- 4.7 million people infected.

Twenty years into the pandemic, the bulk of studies and interventions have centred on women and girls. There is greater understanding of the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS but little funding and effort has gone into working with men, especially young men. Many interventions fail because they do not take into account the identity constructions of the men who interact with women and girls as partners, husbands, fathers, teachers and so forth.

The VSO-RAISA conference provided an unusual and very needed space for reflection and discussion among activists, researchers, and people involved in service delivery and/or advocacy around HIV/AIDS. The conference was structured around 10 parallel streams: Enlisting men as people living with HIV/AIDS; Men in prevention and advocacy; Marketing; Home based care; Man to man transmission; Male reproductive health; Boy child and construction of masculinity; Boy child and peer pressure; Men and cultural beliefs; Stigma and Violence.

A description of the main threads of analysis follows, weaving patterns of how men in Southern Africa relate to HIV/AIDS. A key issue is that deeply held notions of masculinity lead to high-risk behaviour for HIV infection among men and women. Research and surveys across the region show that men are socialised into a notion of masculinity as sexual prowess, risk-taking behaviour and male dominance and superiority over women. At the same time, men perceive their privileged space in society to be under threat from socio-cultural changes taking place in the region. These include rural/urban migration, Western culture seeping through mass media and the entrenchment of women's rights. "Many men are feeling a bit hopeless, like there's no place for them in the world." The sense of loss undermines men's motivation for safe sex.

A study of how masculinity is constructed in schools in KwaZulu Natal found that the conflict between traditional and contemporary gender roles generates in boys and men a sense of displacement and irrelevance that cuts across race and class. White students and teachers feel threatened by the advancement of blacks and women. Black pupils and teachers fear women's new status, poverty and unemployment.

Similar findings emerged in a survey by the University of Witwatersrand on risk-taking behaviour among youth in Soweto, South Africa's largest township, where nearly half of young men are unemployed. "If you have no job and no future, life becomes cheap, and sex is a dangerous entertainment fuelled by boredom, alcohol and poverty."

>From the other end of the social spectrum, a survey among traditional healers, chiefs and Zionist priests by the Promotion of Traditional Medicine Association of South Africa (Pro-me-tra) found that men feel socially disoriented through a loss of leadership position in family and community. "Men have become spectators, irresponsible and indifferent." Traditional practices, however, make up male identity and to attack them is self-defeating, says Prometra. Better to tap into the traditional notion of men being responsible for their families. Male circumcision, wife inheritance, scarification and polygamy can be managed responsibly "in safe and best practice" if people are accurately informed about HIV infection risks.

Many, if not most men, do not engage in risk behaviour - i.e. promiscuity, irregular or no condom use, violence, alcohol and drug abuse - but they have little visibility in the predominant discourse of "men as drivers of the epidemic."

According to the Centre for the Study of Aids at the University of Pretoria, which works with marginalised young men - unemployed, junkies, bodybuilders, drag queens and male sex workers, negative male images channelled by the media and by society are internalised by young men and turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. "There is more rejection than inclusion. As a result, young men feel blamed for all social evils and withdraw."

There was consensus that blaming and scapegoating are not productive or helpful and undermine male selfesteem. "The men-drive-the-epidemic slogan has outlived its usefulness." "We shouldn't blame men, women or culture but take responsibility."

Another common thread is the pervasive silence surrounding male sexuality. Parents don't talk about sex with their children. Husbands don't talk with their wives. Men generally feel uncomfortable discussing intimacy. Their reproductive health needs remain invisible.

At the National Association for People Living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi (NAPHAM), nine out of ten male members would not disclose their HIV status to their spouses. Secrecy brought stress, risk of infection for the wife through unprotected sex, and inability to change lifestyle and live positively. But when NAPHAM started support groups for couples, 65% of men brought their wives. Male membership increased. "The groups enabled men to talk."

"Men need opportunities to explore and talk about their sexuality in non-threatening environments," concluded a regional survey by Southern African AIDS Information and Dissemination Service (SAfAIDs).

Zimbabwe's Men Forum Padare/Enkudleni reaches boys and men in schools, pubs, sports clubs and churches, where they can debate, in a non-threatening space, issues of sexuality, masculinity and power. So does South African Men's Forum (SAMF). "We need to challenge this destructive concept of manhood that men make all decisions, men need many sex partners."

The wall of silence is finally crumbling around the last taboo topics in Africa - male rape and male-to-male sex. Some political and religious leaders have denounced gay men and women as un-African although 19th century ethnographic research documents sex between men in Africa. Politically constructed homophobia has a negative impact on public health because it excludes homosexuals from prevention and awareness campaigns, making them vulnerable to HIV infection. A combination of research and activism is breaking the silence about men who have sex with men across race and class.

Researchers at UNISA in South Africa and the Population Council in Kenya reported on the sexual and reproductive health needs of men who have sex with men. A study of black, gay and bisexual men in Katutura township, Namibia, found they experience verbal, physical and sexual forms of assault and discrimination from hospital staff, police, army and church officials. Facing barriers in employment, they turn to (unsafe) commercial sex work.

That sex happens among male prisoners is now acknowledged even by correctional services. The Prison Fellowship of Zambia described its project to bring AIDS awareness, peer counselling and condoms into prisons. With HIV prevalence of 27-30% in its crowded prisons, Namibia offers counselling to prisoners but not condoms because it could be seen as encouraging sodomy, which is a criminal offence.

Male rape, possibly the last frontier in public debate, was brought into the conference by Men United, a South African group dedicated to breaking the silence about male rape, providing support and care for survivors and their families, and educating youth to speak out against all sexual abuse.

Some success was noted in men's involvement in home based care, reversing the tradition that nursing the sick is a female domain. Tovwirane in northern Malawi and Kara Counselling in southern Zambia have growing numbers of male care givers. Chiefs and church leaders help identify volunteers who are provided with training, bicycles and team support.

The conference showcased a number of male-centred AIDS awareness initiatives in the region, with migrant miners in Zimbabwe, through soccer games in Zambia, and with adolescents in Malawi. The Southern African Men's Network, formed in October 2002, seeks to amplify small local initiatives into visible and structured actions, and to mobilise national men's movements.

A vigorous debate centred on the role of African culture(s) in shaping masculinity. A consensus emerged that traditional culture is dynamic, it changes and adapts, and can accommodate and shape a different construction of masculinity.

After 20 years of rampant spread, AIDS is driving changes in male behaviour in Southern Africa. "Men's perceptions of identities are changing." These changes need to be followed-up and supported.

Participants agreed that the concept and practice of masculinity needs to be reconstructed in ways that fit new socio-economic realities, from rural-urban migration to women's advancement, AIDS and unemployment. A new way of perceiving manhood would empower men to live their sexuality differently and to take active community responsibility. Such efforts should be grounded in a culture of human rights that can bridge cultural differences and span the variety of situations men experience, i.e., rural and urban, old and young, heterosexual and gay, single and married, etc. The notions set out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights provide a common ground for the complex and conflictive task of renegotiating gender power relations.

Summing up the conference, one participant said: "Men should think not about what we stand to lose but what we stand to gain."

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Date distributed (ymd): 030817 Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +gender/women+ +health+


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Sun, 17 Aug 2003 18:18:13 -0500 Subject: Africa: Women, Men, and AIDS