«The Role of Men in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS Prepared by Njoki Wainaina* * The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not ...»
9 October 2003
Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in collaboration with
International Labour Organization (ILO)
Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Expert Group Meeting on
“The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality”
21 to 24 October 2003
The Role of Men in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS
* The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations.
Introduction Gender equality has for a long time been seen as a women's issue, and it is women who have primarily been in the forefront in advancing the gender agenda. Equality is however not a women's issue, but a human rights issue. The persistence of the women's rights campaigners since the foundation of the United Nations has resulted in the recognition of gender relations as key to the transformation of humanity. The threat posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic has added to the urgency of addressing gender relations from a perspective that had not in the past been given as much attention. Building partnerships between women and men and transforming socialisation processes is a strategy for addressing one of the root causes of the spread of the pandemic, the unequal gender power relations.
The urgent need for solutions to the problem of gender inequality has engaged feminists, scholars, thinkers, researchers, writers and development practitioners on a continuous search for answers. The unequal power relationship between females and males in most societies has been recognised as the root cause of most development woes, and especially the spread of HIV/AIDS. While culture is a key determinant of the gender power relationships, patriarchal structures and systems are the vehicles through which gender inequalities, discrimination and the subordination of women are perpetuated and justified; and from which men reap unfair benefits and dominate women. The predominant patriarchal society insists on control, subordination and the under valuing females, stereotyping males as stronger, better, higher value and leaders of women and society. It creates major problems for females and males of all ages, and nowhere has this been as evident as in the current situation where HIV/AIDS has ravaged humanity, especially in countries of Africa.
What Has Motivated Men to Action?
Increasingly, men have become aware that they are beneficiaries of an unfair and untenable system in which everybody eventually becomes a loser. The advancement of the movement for gender equality has changed men's lives and their environment. The BeijingConference had such a profound impact on the lives of women and men that even in remote villages and communities, it is not uncommon to hear the name Beijing, correctly associated with the empowerment of women. The world will never be the same again after Beijing, and more and more men are beginning to realise that the acceptance of equality as a reality is a pre-requisite for the inevitable social transformation. The criticism that has been levied at the patriarchal society as the root of all the evils against women has given many men a sense of guilt because they realise that they are the beneficiaries of the oppression of women and the other fruits of the patriarchy. On the other hand some men are beginning to rebel against what they see as the feminists’ effective appropriation of the power to make decisions especially in the area of reproduction and sexual rights where increasingly women have gained control because of the availability of family planning.
The budding movement for men for gender equality has been motivated by the women's advancement towards gender equality. In Africa, the most active groups of men for gender equality have been formed by men who have felt left behind by women in organising for change. In the programme for gender equality, particularly mobilising men for the fight against violence on women and the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, the majority of the groups are faith based. They have been formed to fill the gap that men felt as they witnessed women gaining empowerment and providing support to other women in ways that men could never match. The post-Beijing period witnessed a focus on the girl child compared to the boy child that has rang a wake-up call to men that things are not right in the masculinity arena. The debate on the boy child is gradually emerging as an issue and agenda for male action. Male visionaries who have in the past pointed to the need for creating new masculinities are beginning to get a hearing from other men, as they recognise the need for men to wake up from their slumber and pay attention to the inevitable changes that have come with the human rights and gender equality movement.
While patriarchy confers all the power to the male in society, men are also heavily represented on the losing side. Men are learning that there is a cost to pay for the things patriarchy has taught and allowed them. Male domination over women in matters of sexuality and the abuse of such power is a primary factor behind the HIVAIDS pandemic. It is not a coincidence that the most patriarchal societies are the same societies where the pandemic is ravaging humanity with the greatest impact. The cost of patriarchal excesses is felt in other facets of life. For example there are more men in prisons, mental hospitals, victims of drug and alcohol abuse, and in gangs; and these conditions are also in turn impacting the spread of the HIV/AIDS and the inevitable end in graves.
This fact has not escaped the notice of the visionary men in societies, in developing and developed countries. Attitudes are gradually changing as more men recognise the value and benefits of societies built on principles of gender equality, justice and freedom. Men who are concerned about the future generation of men are beginning to appreciate the need for constructing new and alternative masculinities, which will among other things inculcate gender equality as a social norm. More men are joining in activities to sensitise men on issues of gender and the dangers posed by such evils as gender based violence and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Through these interventions men have started rethinking their roles and status regarding other issues such as reproductive health, family responsibility, including the nurturing and care of children. The role of men in socialising boys to develop new masculinities is one of the areas where programmes for the empowerment of the girl child have motivated men to act to empower the boy child.
Masculinity and HIVAIDS
The concept of masculinity differs from one society to the other, depending on the socio-cultural situation. It is defined as a set of attributes, values, functions and behaviours that are considered normal conditions of men in a given culture. In most societies masculinity is culturally constructed as essentially a dominant person who discriminates against and subordinates women and other men, especially those who do not conforn to similar behaviour. Boys are socialised and modelled along this pattern from birth and through the life cycle. Social systems ensure compliance to this behaviour. Men who deviate from the defined behaviour are ostracised and assumed to take the side of women. The fear to be labeled as women keeps many men and boys from supporting gender equality and defending the rights of women.
The socialisation of boys and men regarding sexuality is one of the areas of masculinities that are of major concern today, in face of the HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa. Most men and boys are socialised to believe that they are entitled to have sex and that it is natural to have many partners. Boys and men are socialised to believe that sex is their right and that they are entitled to it whenever they want it. Girls are socialised to be submissive, service oriented and self-sacrificial. They grow up believing it is their duty to serve and satisfy men. Some women believe the lie that it is natural for men to have many partners or to exercise power over them. Even when they know their partners are involved in risky behaviour, they lack the power to negotiate safe sex and to say no to irresponsible men. Polygamy is an accepted norm by both women and men in many societies; and multiple partners are justified as a form of informal polygamy. The informal polygamy is seen as a right to have sex with many women without obligations of fidelity or responsibility to the women or the children conceived in these relations.
Widow inheritance, female genital cutting and other cultural practices where men are the beneficiaries have increased the threat of HIV/AlDS for themselves and the women.
Men and HIV/AIDS
Men, women and children are at risk of HlV/AlDS. Men's vulnerability is made higher by their patterns of behaviour, modes of socialisation, peer pressure, prevailing concepts of masculinity, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, hostile environments, cultural practices and norms. Men have significant control over women's sexual lives. Many use violence, psychological, economic or social pressure to insist on sex with their partners. Further they use the same advantages to have many sex partners. Even when aware of their own vulnerability, most women have little opportunity or power to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STls). Men are placed at risk by masculine values, which discourage them from protecting themselves. In a recent consultation with some men in Nairobi, they traced the risky behaviour many of them indulge in to the way they were socialised and brought up to show masculine prowess and power over women and girls.
Culture plays an important role in the spread of H1V/AlDS. Practices such as widow inheritance, polygamy, female genital cutting, early sexuality and dry sex affect the individual's risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. Some men use violence to make their partners have sex with them. Sex coercion happens in and outside the home. Children may encounter violence from parents, older members, close relatives, older friends, youth gangs, domestic workers or teachers. Younger girls are forced or enticed into sex relations with older men because these men believe that young girls are free of the virus. In the recent past cases of violation of baby girls by adults have greatly increased, and as the pandernic ravages communities there is no end to the atrocities being committed by many in situations of despair, and who are looking for cure even in the most unlikely places.
Rape among men in prisons is a common occurrence, which may be through consent, rape or other forms of exploitation. Wars and political instability create refugees persons who are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of a multiplicity of factors including inadequate protection, poverty, poor nutrition, inaccessibility to health services, the use of rape as a war weapon and forced transactional sex. Drug and alcohol abuse have a direct relationship with HIV transmission because of contaminated syringes. Drug and alcohol use impairs the judgement of users and could lead to risky behaviour such as sharing of partners and sex rituals.
Men's Involvement in Care and Support
The gender division of labour in most societies puts the burden of looking after the sick on women.
Often women will care for the men in their families, but if women get infected, they depend on their children or relatives to look after them. Involving men in the prevention, care and support of those living with the epidemic is one of the ways of bringing change. Men are the key decision-makers in all aspects of the transmission and the power to protect themselves and their partners. Engaging men in giving care brings them face to face with the realities of HIV/AIDS, and the need for change. Men's participation in dialogue, giving personal testimonies and analysis of things that are happening to men and boys in families and in society is one of the effective strategies that has been used to help those men living with HIV/AIDS and for helping others to change their behaviour. In most societies, women have support groups and more openly share information and concerns than men. Men and boys have been socialised to believe they know more than women, and therefore feel threatened when women know more. Creating forums for men to share, discuss and agree on action is an effective way of mobilising their support and changing their attitudes and behaviour.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has jolted many societies into action, particularly challenging them to examine how boys have in the past been socialised into manhood and the masculinity values that have been passed or not passed on to them. In this connection targetting boys is fast gaining prominence as a medium-term strategy for changing male behaviour and developing new masculinities. Activities include developing new rites of passage, which take into consideration the changing roles of men in society, and particularly recognising the principles of gender equality that are gradually being accepted as a social norm. Boys’ camps are another common activity where they learn under the guidance of men and older youth new values.
In several African countries faith based organisations have taken a lead in these initiatives, particularly responding to the growing threat of HIV/AIDS, gender based violence, drug and substance abuse and indiscipline in learning institutions at all levels. Media programmes, production of educational materials, drama and theatre groups are some of the other activities that are gaining popularity. In Kenya, an annual event known as the national drama and music festival is playng a crucial role in mobilising the creativity of young people in schools through-out the nation in composing songs and drama on the theme of HIV/AIDS. Both boys and girls’ schools have been involved and this has greatly contributed to the awareness creation among youth of the dangers posed by the pandemic.