WE often hear and read that HIV/Aids does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and economic status.
And while it is true that anyone can acquire HIV, we don’t need a magnifying glass to acknowledge that in Africa, black adolescent girls and young women who are economically disadvantaged account for the largest percentage of new HIV infections.
Since the start of the global HIV epidemic, women have been disproportionally affected by HIV in many regions. Today, women constitute more than half of all people living with HIV, and Aids-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death for women at a reproductive age.
This sounds deeply personal and discriminatory to me.
Saturday, 1 December, was World Aids Day. And while the day is now treated as another ordinary day, what Namibians should have in fact been doing is using the day to raise awareness and have open and honest discussions about stigma, discrimination and how the African continent, which has borne the largest burden of people living with HIV infection, can improve its rankings.
Since women and girls worldwide are particularly at risk of HIV, it will also serve us well to have tailor-made solutions to fighting the epidemic.
To do this, however, we first need to accept that HIV disproportionally affects woman and adolescent girls precisely because of vulnerabilities created by an unequal culture, social and economic status.
Empowering woman should be exactly where the fight starts.
A male-dominated culture socialises men to feel that they are superior to women. Women’s inferior status means that they often have little or no power to negotiate for safe sex and unless the unequal power relations between men and women are confronted and tackled head on, women will continue to bear the brunt.
Another contributing factor to consider is the lack of economic power, which often results in women depending on their male partners for basic needs. This dependency means women are often not in a position to challenge their male partners for fear that they will be denied financial support.
This is perhaps partly why poor women are at greatest risk.
With Namibia largely being a Christian nation, unaccommodating attitudes towards sex outside marriage also reduces women and young girls’ ability to access sexual health and HIV services.
As controversial of a topic as it is, perhaps it is time we seriously consider the distribution of condoms in high school while we continue to preach abstinence and focus on sex education.
What condoms do is mitigate cases of unwanted pregnancies for the already sexually active teenagers, while encouraging those considering engaging in sexual relations to be more responsible.
What accessible condoms, however, do not do is encourage learners who aren’t ready to be sexually active to experiment sexually merely because condoms are readily available.
While seeming to encourage sexual activity amongst school-going children is a legitimate concern from especially parents, we can no longer pretend that adolescent boys and girls aren’t already engaging in reckless sexual behaviours.
The best thing we can do for our children when there is a swimming pool at the house is to teach them to swim instead of merely putting a fence around it and telling them not to get into the water.