One World One Hope
Talks with S
AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease that has been visible in official records since the 1980’s.This disease has provided a constant threat to mitigate the existence of mankind ever since the establishment of its fatal consequences, thereby creating a national epidemic. Researchers, scientists, doctors, and the like, have put in constructive efforts over the years to find a solution to put an end to this epidemic. Having been unsuccessful to find a cure, the next steps they attempted include finding ways to “control” or dampen the spread of this disease. Various constructive efforts have been put in by several international humanitarian organizations, such as UNAIDS, World Health Organization, International AIDS Society, etc. to find ways to control the spread of this disease.
Questions such as- how the disease continues to spread despite complete and transparent information available to the public about reasons for its occurrence, what groups of individuals (caste/race/religion etc.) are mostly impacted by this disease, and who (gender) is the active agent in spreading this disease- have been under constant debate all over the world. In the 1980’s, when the first cases of AIDS were reported, this disease was assumed to affect the male bodies, particularly that of gay men (Richardson 127). It was associated to appear among individuals who chose the “homosexual lifestyle.” At that time, women were almost invisible in the identification of AIDS as a deadly disease. AIDS is now seen as a disease prevalent even among those who lead the “heterosexual lifestyle,” and thereby impacting those who are “straight” as well. Over the years, the face of women in this active struggle against AIDS has changed, from invisibility to “stigmatized vectors” of the virus (Dworkin, Higgins & Hoffman 435). Dworkin, Higgins and Hoffman, in Rethinking Gender, Heterosexual Men, and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS state, “the primary face of AIDS is a woman” (435). Furthermore, Richardson states, “Although AIDS has been firmly constructed as a ‘male disease’, at least in the west, the heterosexual male is largely the invisible in AIDS discourse” (138). This discourse of AIDS in the world has greatly been based upon the paradigm that women are the “disadvantaged victims” of society, while the men are the active agents that have caused this epidemic.
It is believed that men are the prime carriers of the HIV infection, who have imparted this deadly virus on the women they have had sexual intercourse with. The vulnerability model that blames men is based upon the theory that, “the socially disadvantaged, monogamous, and unsuspecting woman is infected not through her own behaviors but as a consequence of her partner’s wrongdoing” (Dworkin, Higgins &.Hoffman 436). Men are blamed for widespread dispersion of this disease, because they are said to have sexual intercourse with multiple partners, believed not to use condoms for the lack of sexual sensation or arousal, and on several occasions are regarded as being unfaithful towards their partners. Despite these conditions, all the attention is focused on ways to educate women, and not men, on combating the AIDS epidemic. Men are giving leeway here under the impression that, “[the] male sex drive is unstoppable”, “boys will be boys”, and “[their] behavior is unchangeable and uncontrollable” (Dworkin, Higgins &.Hoffman 440). Statistics shows that, “for every sex act, an HIV- negative woman is at least twice as likely to become infected by an HIV-positive man, than an HIV-negative man is to become infected from an HIV-positive woman” (Mukherjee 380). It is believed that woman are biologically, epidemiologically, socio-culturally, and structurally more susceptible to contracting HIV than men (Dworkin, Higgins &.Hoffman 441). Thus, it is assumed that women are solely responsible to protect themselves from AIDS, and as a result, ultimately controlling the AIDS epidemic.
Dworkin, Higgins &.Hoffman, in Rethinking Gender, Heterosexual Men, and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, state:
“This paradigm rests upon the following assumptions about gender inequality: (1) women want to prevent HIV when having sexual intercourse with a potentially infected man, but lack the power to do so, and (2) men are more likely than women to bring HIV into the partnership because they engage in more sexual and drug use risk behavior” (438).
This theory takes into account the social concept of “masculinity,” where, women are unable to tell their male sex partner’s to use a condom during sexual intercourse. It also stems from the notion that males do not want to use condoms as they may not get sexual satisfaction with its usage. It does not take into account that, perhaps women may not get the sexual sensation they desire, if their male sex partner does in fact use a condom. Furthermore, it assumes that men are “careless” and “carefree,” while all women are “conscious” of getting inflicted with the HIV infection. This may not always hold true. In some cases, women may indeed be the “carefree” sexual partners, while the men may be the “conscious” and “faithful” partners.
If heterosexual men are the active and prime carriers of the disease because they have multiple sex partners, or are unfaithful towards their partners, then the question that comes to mind is whom did these men contract the disease from? Assuming that these males are heterosexual and not involved in any homosexual activity, then the argument can be stirred the other way around. We can also argue that, in reality “heterosexual females” are the prime carriers of this disease, as these males are having sexual intercourse with “other females.” Dworkin, Higgins & Hoffman, in Rethinking Gender, Heterosexual Men, and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS state, “Emerging data show that in many settings women are almost as likely as men to bring HIV into the partnership” (439).
Currently, all the programs and policies aimed towards mitigating the HIV infection focus on female education and empowerment. Inclusion of men is necessary in this movement to combat the AIDS epidemic. Today, women all over the world are recommended to follow the ABC commandments of remaining abstinent until marriage, being faithful to a single partner, and using condoms (Dworkin, Higgins & Hoffman 436). The same can, and should be applied towards education of men. For example, women should continue to be given education or skills on how to speak up and ask their male sex partners about using condoms during intercourse. At the same time, men should also be educated on the benefits of wearing a contraceptive during sexual intercourse, talking to their sexual partners about their “sexual scripts,” and how to react to a sexual partners request to him to wear (or not wear) a condom.
Even though woman are considered more susceptible than men to contract an HIV infection, if certain myths are proven to be true, then men are at equal risk of contracting an HIV infection. These myths include notions that more men have multiple sex partners than women, more men are unfaithful in relationships, all men do not like to wear condoms while all women would want their sexual partners to wear one, and men are “carefree” and enjoy partaking in risky sexual behavior. These myths lead the society to believe that only women deserve protection from AIDS (Dworkin, Higgins & Hoffman 437). While these myths can hold true for some men, they can also be some women who partake in risky sexual behaviors while their male partner may not do so.
Both men and women should be responsible for their own “sexual health”. Men should also have the right to partake in AIDS prevention and treatment programs. While gender inequalities do exist in society, policies and interventions should aim at empowerment of both women and men. Educating men about safe sex practices will not only benefit all these men, but will also benefit women (say the male sex partner now always wears a condom during sexual intercourse), who under other circumstances, may not have been able to tell their partners to wear a condom before sexual intercourse.
Dworkin, Shari L. Higgins, Jenny A. Hoffman, Susie. “Rethinking Gender, Heterosexual Men, and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS”
Mukherjee, Joia S. “Structural Violence, Poverty and the AIDS Pandemic”
Richardson, Diane. “In/Visible Women and Dis/Appearing Men”