This paper presents an argumentative essay on stigmatization, gender, culture and HIV and AIDS in Africa with a focus on the stigmatization of females living with HIV and AIDS. But first, we will look at an overview of Sizwe’s Test: A Young Man's Journey through Africa's AIDS Epidemic by Jonny Steinberg to have a better understanding of what the book is about. The author of the book, Jonny Steinberg, a celebrated South African journalist took a journey to the core of AIDS crisis in South Africa, his home country with an intention of determining the reason why individuals with HIV opt to stay home and die while staying within a walking distance from the hospitals that provide them with free ARVS (Steinberg 5).
From the book, nearly six million persons within a forty-six million population are HIV-positive in South Africa. Sizwe’s Test illustrates an absorbing perception of the medical and social life surrounding HIV and AIDS. In his book, Steinberg presents a story of two South Africans, Sizwe Magdala and Dr. Herman Reuter. At his twenty years old, Sizwe is counted amongst the richest and most well-educated and handsome men within his poor village. Despite having seen a considerable number of his neighbors get sick and die, Sizwe declines to get tested for HIV (Steinberg 15-20). Dr. Herman, on the other hand, is a Western physician who is on a mission to provide a decent treatment for everyone with AIDS. He believes that if a decent quality treatment is provided to HIV patients, persons will go for it their situations notwithstanding. When he sets up an antiretroviral treatment program within Sizwe’s district, Sizwe realizes that some of his close family members are HIV- positive and consequently, a culture clash between these two personalities from different worlds arises. While one fears that HIV-infected persons will refuse the medical care being provided, the other fears the possibility of the advent of a world with no regard for tradition and privacy; a reflection of the worldwide battle against the epidemic which has corrupted both bodies and souls. Through the account of Sizwe and Dr. Herman, Steinberg shows the perception of HIV-infected persons, those who are attempting to assist, as well as the people who reject the assistance offered to them. From implacable bureaucracies and under-trained nurses to stories of demons bearing HIV having sex with villagers at night, Steinberg makes known a powerful factual, but heartbreaking tale of stigma, superstition, shame, pride, sex and death together with the cultural gap at the core of AIDS crisis in Africa. Below is an argumentative essay on stigmatization, gender, culture and HIV/AIDS in Africa, with the main focus on the stigmatization of females living with HIV and AIDS.
HIV/AIDS remains a global epidemic that continues to claim millions of lives every year. As at 2007, an estimated 33 million individuals were infected with HIV throughout the world. 22.5 million people were infected with the virus during the same year in Sub Saharan Africa, making it the highest HIV-infected region in the world. New HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in 2007, in Sub Saharan Africa were approximately 1.7million and 1.8 million respectively (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS 1-5). Persons living with HIV and AIDS not only experience medical problems, but also social problems linked to the disease. One of the problems associated with HIV/AIDS is stigma. Stigma related to HIV and AIDS remains a complex issue that has existed for a long time. It denotes the discrimination, maltreatment and prejudice directed at persons perceived to be suffering from HIV or AIDS, including their partners, families and friends. It is a problem that happens all over the globe and is expressed in different ways including 1) rejection, ostracism and evasion of people with AIDS, 2) discrimination of persons living with HIV or AIDS by their governments, families, communities, and health care professionals, 3) quarantine of HIV-infected persons, and 5) violence against individuals perceived to be infected with HIV, have AIDS, or belong to high risk groups such as prostitutes. HIV/ AIDS-related stigma usually strengthens existing social inequalities depending on ethnicity, sexuality, class, gender, culture and race. It also promotes denial and secrecy, which act as catalysts for transmitting HIV (Rankin, Brennan, Schell, Laviwa, and Rankin 247). In addition, stigma negatively impacts on people seeking HIV testing, post-diagnosis care, and the quality of care offered to HIV patients.
Just like the villagers in Sizwe’s Test who feared being tested for HIV and preferred to die due to the stigma associated with being HIV-positive, many people around the world evade being tested for similar reasons. It is a fact that HIV-infected people all over the world continue to be stigmatized and discriminated by the very same people who should be offering them support and encouragement. Even though, HIV is transmitted by different ways such as sexual intercourse, blood transfusion etc, it is outrageous to see the hostile attitudes directed towards persons living with HIV because the public thinks that they are promiscuous. It is worth noting that rejecting, avoiding, isolating and discriminating persons with HIV and AIDS negatively affects their overall quality of life. The world should realize that persons infected with HIV/ AIDS are ordinary people just like us and; therefore, have the right to full and happy lives without the cruelty and discrimination that they face. I believe that such individuals should be supported, respected and treated with dignity just like any other human being.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, females are expected traditionally to give birth and raise children, attend to household chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry etc) and submit to their husbands’ sexual desires. The social control of women by men in Africa regarding their voice, movement and opportunities, is rooted on the belief that when they are given too much freedom, they might become promiscuous and contaminate the patriarchal lineage. Gender inequality remains a major influential factor in the ability of women to protect themselves. Even though, there are several different means through which HIV is transmitted, many people in Africa perceive heterosexual contact to be the principal cause of HIV. This is a misconception that is culturally rooted and not even the HIV awareness programs provided to sensitize people on the disease have been able to do away with it. Consequently, HIV-infected people are often viewed in the light of promiscuity. They are believed to be engaged in unacceptable sexual relations with third-persons other than their husbands or wives (Greeff, Phetlhu, and Makoae, et al. 311-324; Campbell, Nair, Maimane, and Nicholson 403-416). Females living with HIV face more intolerance and hostility in Africa than their male counterparts do (Strebel, Crawford and Shefer et al 516-528). A study conducted in Kenya revealed that the stigma rate of persons living with HIV was 56% and 12% in women and men respectively (Amuyunzu-Nyamongo, Okeng'o, Wagura, and Mwenzwa S25-S34). This is an indication of just how gender inequality plays a role in the stigmatization of HIV-infected persons. More often than not, women are blamed as the HIV transmission vectors, even if it is their men who have been promiscuous. Therefore, being a woman and having HIV and AIDS is a double tragedy in Africa. I am utterly against gender inequality, and more so, discriminating women because of being HIV-positive. Though the number of women who are either working or engaging in business has increased considerably in Africa over the last couple of years, there are still numerous women who entirely depend on their husbands for financial assistance, and this has significantly contributed to gender inequality as women are viewed by the society as inferior beings than men. I believe women have the potential to work hard and become financially independent just like their male counterparts; therefore, they should stop relying on their men and either find work, or start a business to enable them become independent. That way, they will not only earn respect and dignity in the eyes of their male counterparts but also contribute to the development of their economies, and most importantly, it will help reduce gender inequality.
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With regards to the higher rate of stigmatization of females with HIV than males, I think it is inhumane and highly unfair to women being treated in such a manner. Why should women be seen as the promiscuous parties in case of A HIV infection between couples, even if it is the men who are unfaithful? Furthermore, even after the infection, it is still the women who experience a great percentage of maltreatment by the public. It is my opinion that women have equal rights to be treated with respect and dignity just like their male counterparts and in case of a HIV infection the society should treat them equally and stop the gender-based discrimination..
A majority of African societies require women to be monogamous, remain faithful to their husbands, while men, on the other hand, have the privilege of being polygamous or having extramarital affairs (Ankrah and Henry 20-21). This is a major contribution to HIV infection of females in marriages because such women's ability to contract HIV is at the mercy of their male spouses. Because of the low speaking and decision-making power accorded to women within the African culture, they are not in a position to question their husbands even if there is evidence that they are unfaithful. In addition, their absolute dependence on their husbands for shelter, food, clothing etc, makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection because they fear being kicked out of their homes if they speak about their partner’s unfaithfulness. As a result, women have no means of protecting themselves from infection as all decisions are left to the men. I maintain that such cultures that view women as inferior beings and deny them the right to express themselves and contribute in decision making within their families, ought to be abolished because they are not only outdated, but also promote promiscuity among men, which in turn puts many married couples at risk of contracting the virus.
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Because of the stigmatization of women living with HIV and AIDS, women generally tend to refrain from HIV testing, and if they decide to be tested and the results are positive, they opt to conceal their status for fear of stigma, rejection and even divorce. A study conducted in Ghana revealed that women who shared their HIV outcomes with their husbands got a wide range of responses from understanding and support, to discrimination, accusations, physical violence and even divorce. While it is vital to use condoms in the prevention of new HIV infections, women culturally have no right to insist that their husbands use condoms should they refuse. With such a kind of culture, it is up to the women, whether infected or not, to choose whether to continue risking their health and lives or to protect themselves from new infections. However, another disheartening issue is the fact that the society has condemned those women who have exhibited independence by going to schools and securing jobs and out of their awareness of the AIDS pandemic, have insisted on their spouses using condoms. This is because; the society sees them as competitors with men, which is against the African culture.
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HIV and AIDS pandemic is real and is continuing to take countless lives all over the world. It is sad that the African culture views women as secondhand human beings and denies them their right to self-expression even if their health and lives are at risk. Women, whether HIV-positive or negative, are human beings that should be respected and treated with dignity. It is also worrying that the society views women with HIV as the promiscuous parties, even if the virus was transmitted to them by their men. If we are to prevent new HIV infections in Africa and all over the globe, couples should use condoms religiously and remain faithful to their partners. In addition, women should stop depending on their husbands and engage in activities that will make them financially independent.