Some cultural practices detrimental to fights against HIV

While several decades have passed since HIV was first identified, the pandemic’s complicated nature persists in challenging communities, countries and response efforts. Cultural norms and practices in Namibia are said to be possible drivers of the HIV pandemic. The challenges associated with the relationship between HIV/AIDS and cultural norms have proven to be especially difficult because they differ from culture to culture. This is especially true in a country like Namibia were there are over 10 different tribes and which all have different cultural norms and values. The ways in which the pandemic is regarded as well as the ways in which responses are conceived and implemented are closely linked to factors such as traditional practices, gender issues and beliefs. In many African cultures women are still on the receiving end as gender roles are assigned to make women submissive to their partners and not question their actions even if the actions will someday bring an innocent person the HIV virus infection. In a certain Namibian culture that I will not mention, it is socially acceptable for a man to have children out of wedlock and then bring these children to live with him and his wife. In this culture if the woman refuses to take the children into her family she is considered a bad wife who does not know her place in society. If the man finds out that the ‘small house’ is pregnant, it becomes his wife’s responsibility to let the ‘small house’s’ parents know that her husband got their child pregnant. In this day and age where as a country we are amongst the worst affected by HIV and AIDS, this is like adding fuel to a burning fire. These are the kinds of cultural norms that contribute to an increase in the number of HIV infections. Another cultural practice prevalent in Namibia is the act of testing young women for fertility. In another culture young girls of ages varying from 16 to 19 undergo fertility tests were they have to fall pregnant to show the society that they can bear children and can be called ‘real women’. This means that every other girl falls pregnant and there is nothing like teenage pregnancy. They do not use condoms and thus have one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country. Also in Namibia, the Ovaherero are known to be a tribe were it is socially and culturally acceptable for marriages between cousins. This can be by choice or by force – were a girl can be the ‘chosen one’ for a certain cousin. Personally I do not have a problem with cousins who fall in love and get married. However, for me it becomes a problem when two people are forced to marry each other. I know of a situation where a man (Herero) lost his wife to HIV and he also was infected with the virus. His family however insisted on saying the wife was bewitched so they got him a cousin to marry him as a replacement for his wife knowing full well what had killed his wife. Now I think that is sad because that is another person who will one day live her children as orphans of HIV because she had to obey her parents and her culture. It is important that as young people we know where we came from and that we respect our cultural practices. Times are changing, what used to work in a cultural setting in the 18th century would not be relevant to the 21st century so I think we have to carry on with the good and healthy cultural practices and do away with the ones that bring us more harm than good.

May 2010
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