Masculinity and HIV/AIDS
I am amazed at how men in African communities like Namibia continue to dominate all spheres of family life, including sex and reproduction decisions. Some of these decisions increase the vulnerability of women and men to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
Masculinity is a set of attributes, values, functions and behaviours considered normal among men in a given culture. This concept differs from one society to another, depending on the socio-cultural context.
Men, women and children are at risk of HIV/AIDS. Men’s behaviour patterns, modes of socialisation, peer pressure, prevailing concepts of masculinity, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, hostile environments, cultural practices and norms increase their vulnerability.
The socialisation of boys and men regarding sexuality is one of the areas of masculinity that is of major concern today, in the 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.
While 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 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.
In an ideal world, 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 (STIs). Men are placed at risk by masculine values, which discourage them from protecting themselves.
A recent consultation in Nairobi, traced risky behaviour in men to how they were socialised and brought up to show masculine prowess and power over women and girls.
The truth is culture plays an important role in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Practices such as widow inheritance, polygamy, female genital mutilation, early sexuality and dry sex affect the individual’s risk of contracting or transmitting HIV.
Some men use violence to force their partners to have sex with them and this happens within and outside the home, while children encounter violence from parents, older members, close relatives, older friends, youth gangs, domestic workers or teachers.
Older men force or entice younger girls into sexual relations because these men believe that young girls are free of the virus. In recent times, cases of violation of baby girls by adults have greatly increased. And, as the pandemic ravages communities, there seems no end to the atrocities committed by many men in despair, and who are looking for a cure even in the most unlikely places.
In conclusion, the hope for winning the fight against HIV/AIDS lies in changing attitudes and behaviour of the boys of today ‑ the men of tomorrow, who will not be afraid of equality with women and who are willing to change their behaviour and attitudes.
This should include developing new masculine and feminine ideologies, especially among the youth. The involvement of men in programmes for gender equality and especially the fight against the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic borrows a leaf from the struggle to end apartheid.
The struggle made great gains when some white campaigners joined the struggle and campaigned against the evil. The perpetrators of the evil listened to their own; and created a new voice.Likewise, men who support equality with women are powerful and effective advocates for change.
Men must take the lead in dismantling the patriarchal systems and must refuse to continue to be beneficiaries of the evil system that dehumanises and subordinates more than half of every patriarchal society. Our task is to show that the gains for them to do so far out-weigh the losses.