Today we join the rest of the world to celebrate World AIDS day. We remember all those that have fought and continue to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic, those that have lost their lives and those that refuse to be held down by the burden of the disease.
This year around I am excited to witness this day because of the strides that have been taken towards combating HIV/AIDS and the fact that Winnie Byanyima, a known social justice activist is the new Executive Director of UNAIDS. I believe that having someone that understands the dynamics of power and gender inequality is fundamental in achieving target 3.3 of the sustainable development goals to end the epidemic by 2030.
Women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, globally. In Uganda statistics show a higher prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in women (59.3% of adults living with HIV/AIDS) as opposed to men. We therefore cannot have the conversation on ending the pandemic without bringing to light possible reasons as to why women in Uganda continue to have a higher prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS.
Uganda being a largely patriarchal country means that women are considered to in a way be inferior to men. Because of this inferiority complex they are less likely to attain an education and compete favorably with their male counterparts. The power imbalance, entitlement and objectification of women means women are less likely to make decisions about their own lives. For example, in Bushenyi where I am currently doing my junior clerkship, many women claim that their husbands refuse them to use any forms of contraception and yet most of those are part of the broader sexual network. Others claim that when they ask to go test for HIV/AIDS their husbands assume that they have been cheating and gender based violence follows. Harmful religious and traditional practices in Uganda reinforce this and some women need the consent of their husband to attain sexual and reproductive health services.
Despite the existence of protective laws most of them are not implemented and perpetrators are protected. Women that have been raped or defiled are often asked by the police to provide unrealistic amounts of evidence and even with the evidence they are not believed. Most victims are treated like they are inherently guilty of something and that other factors like their dress code, time of the incident etc in a way justify why they were harassed. Due to this culture that never believes victims, these women are less likely to access post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) which would otherwise protect them from contracting HIV/AIDS. With no working channels for reporting and seeking justice, many women in Uganda are repeatedly harassed with no consequence and many end up with HIV/AIDS. Existing laws therefore need to be enforced and law enforcement agents need to unlearn harmful cultural concepts that make them allies to the abusers.
According to UNICEF Uganda has the 16th highest rate of child marriages and the 10th highest absolute number of child brides globally. Most of these girls are at high risk of rape and sexual harassment and since they are often married off to older men who might have other wives they are also at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Since most of them depend on their husbands for economic livelihood, they are also generally less likely to seek early medical help for diagnosis and treatment. To end the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Uganda needs to look into ways to end this unjust plight in the country.
Poverty is also another key player in the HIV pandemic in Uganda. Women that are less privileged are at higher risk because they are forced into sex work as a way to make a living. Most of these provide their services to men who may refuse to practice protective and safe sexual measures like the use of condoms and others are not aware of the existence of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) which is given to individuals at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Also, Uganda does not have enforced laws that directly protect sex workers from forms of gender based violence from their clients. They are often treated as if they were already guilty and as if being a sex worker in a way means they have already given sexual consent. This further puts them at risk of contracting the disease.
It is important for Uganda therefore to work towards gender equality and equality before the law if we are to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic and end it by 2030.
Bloggren, I hope you have all been well, otherwise. What are your thoughts on gender inequality and health care access and disease prevalence rates in general?
Share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
Also to let you know that 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is happening. I’d love to read your amazing thoughts on this year’s theme.