The article focuses on Burkina Faso, but the problem of people having sex too young and contracting HIV/AIDS is a world problem. I was alarmed at a previous AMSA conference when the now retired senior officer reported on his findings that the rate of HIV was higher in China than Africa (so he said) but was unreported due to the language barrier and people living in the country-side and being ignored from assistance . I was alarmed when I went to Jamaica to understand the reality of HIV, as I sat in a 22* year old woman’s house to find that she hides and cannot find work, because she has been verbally torn down and ostracised for having HIV, that was given to her by her long term boyfriend.
The problem is the same in Africa! But how do you solve a problem in which the roots are in gender roles and ideologies of what it means to be a woman? Many women catch HIV because [as the HIV educators in Jamaica informed me and the article on Burkina Faso support] a woman is not seen as a woman without a man with whom she is sexually engaged, -that is the belief; it is an enforced social ideology (through taunting and ostracism) that the presence of a visible relationship makes a woman ‘whole’ and the sexual relations with the opposite sex creates a ‘man’. There are many ways and versions of saying the same thing, but this is the premise that seems to be prevalent among “African” oriented cultures. I say African cultures because I make it a point of only generalizing information that I have first hand knowledge of or witnesses myself.
The problem with the latter issues is that solving it is bigger than health education and ARVs (which have become in the minds of some active engagers of sex ‘it’s like candy’ because education or no education, certain factors are not being addressed) because as long as a woman is not self empowered and the community is not educated to redefine the roles and ideologies of ‘woman-hood’ the woman will continue to compromise her wants and needs which only results in deterioration of life-hood for her and at the very least her children. This lack of empowerment and the end results of the engagement ultimately affect the entire community, because we all know it really does take a village to raise a child. How much more will be needed to raise a HIV child, who now faces an unemployed mother, discrimination, restrictions on marriage, lack of family support, restrictions on ability to work and fears about death? So many domino effects are created by the one decision to have sex. Why should this be the case? Why should it be that the change from ‘girl to woman’, ‘boy to man’ is defined by this one action by the non-formally college educated masses (developing country or not)?
The formal education changes the ideology and the majority can’t afford formal education; thus we go back to the sex equals ‘worthiness’ arguments verbally and mentally and stipulations of acceptance enforced by stigma and ostracism, leading people to compromise the health of others and themselves. The end result of the unprotected, unwanted, misunderstood actions to gain acceptance and LOVE is either actions that ultimately can kill the ‘self’ (literally and allegorically), or kill another.
“These young people want to have a normal sex life, which is reinforced by the fact that it is “practically inconceivable” to not have children in Africa, where “a couple who have been together two years without having a child are criticised,” said Martine Somda, president of Rêve +. “People say that the man must be impotent.” (plusnews –click) The above is an extraction that provides insider knowledge on what I am speaking of when I say the actions to gain acceptance and LOVE. If there was acceptance and strong self confidence wouldn’t have to worry about so many people ignoring the fear of death from HIV and placing more focus on the fear of being unloved or unaccepted, resulting in them having undesired, unwanted, unprotected sex. There seems to be a lot of ‘uns’ and unnecessary compromises! What that says to me is that someone would rather risk death to themselves and others than feel unwanted. Thus, if this is the case the mental and emotional aspects of health education (not resolution) seem to be the ignored factor when addressing sex education, and how to combat feeling and social stigma. It also seems that the social responsibility argument is being missing from many individuals choice to engage in social roles to meet their own needs. In plain English… selflessness/selfishness of the choice behind having NOT ONLY HAVING SEX, but Unprotected, Unwanted, Unprepared for sex seems to be missing. We all need a dose of humanitarian, social responsibility education behind the ‘freedom of expression, freedom of love, buy a condom advertisements’ or “be an adult and get your ‘party on’ ”.
The situation regarding roles and ideologies mixed in with tradition, religion, elderly values and media influence is so complex and they have to be ‘attacked’ all at once to get any large scale positive change underway. I don’t know about you, but the ‘fit in and be one of us’ is a bit creepy to me; it reminds me of a horror movie. That’s what it’s like when I hear irrational arguments about ‘manhood’, ‘womanhood’ and how that relates to sex. “come…join us…be one with us…”. Wait! Wasn’t that a line if the movie ‘THE LOST BOYS?” “Repeat that to yourself out loud and see how you feel.
Back to the African Diaspora argument (from paragraph 1)… In Jamaica, a woman without man is asked if she’s a lesbian. If she does not have kids during her teens or 20’s the under-educated masses call her a ‘mule’. The animal is used to translate a message since the culture speaks in symbols, analogies and allegorical messages. For both Jamaica and Africa a man without a woman is inferred to be homosexual or impotent. The only thing that this taunting and allegorical side bars, heard as whispers in school yards leads to [in those that have not had the benefit of being self empowered yet] is unprotected and (many times) unwanted sexual relations in search of self acceptance, love and some attention. Why do we do this to each other? Why do we define a social identity and gender roles on things that limit the other entity from self empowerment and a brighter future! Do we really self hate that much that we need to tear down another to feel good, or is it that we are so wrapped up in ideological ‘correctness’ and boxed concepts that we are sheep that follow the masses even when we question the ethics and morals of what we are engaged in!