HIV/AIDS & Gender: Rooting out stigma

Date: February 25, 2010
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The articles show gender and other vulnerable groups remain off the radar of HIV/AIDS change education programmes. They demonstrate the negative impact of assumptions and stigma.

Articles analysed

– “Maua: A lone Struggle for Survival”, Daily News, 7th November 2009
– “Taking Behaviour Change Education to Students”, Daily News, 7th November 2009.
– “Women’s suicide reminder of HIV stigma,” GL Service, October 2009

These articles may be used to:

– Show how stereotypes about HIV impact on women
– Discuss the impact of HIV/AIDS intervention programme messages in its ability to reach or miss their mark
– Discuss the significance of involving specific groups, example students, married women, care workers, etc in the planning and implementation of HIV/AIDS programmes.
– Discuss the importance of sources
– Discuss the value of using multiple voices, including competing views in reportage

Training Notes
“Maua: A lone Struggle for Survival,” is about a woman who was labeled as HIV positive because of a chronic coughing condition. The article highlights the impact of prejudice and social alienation of a woman considered to be living with HIV. This is a profile piece on a woman left to fend for her children when she her husband abandoned her. Her journey is of alienation, and a never-ending struggle to secure medical assistance and support from NGOs. Poverty compounds her condition and she is unable to fend for her children or pay for sterile gauzes to cover a hole in her rib-cage – a condition that she has lived with for about 15 years.

“Taking Behaviour Change Education to Students,” is about the lack of appropriate knowledge about HIV/AIDS amongst students in institutions of higher learning, making them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The article argues that HIV/AIDS prevention programmes target sex workers and other groups considered to be high risk but ignores college students in the misguided belief that they are knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS. Consequently, intervention programmes fail because they ignore the input of the very stakeholders they seek to address. The article comments on abstinence vs. condom use and suggests that broadening preventative choices would be more appropriate in sexually active groups, like college students.

While both articles explore patterns of social behavior, the former article does so from a gender-sensitive perspective. The irony of the latter article is that while it offers a fresh perspective on HIV/AIDS by exploring centres of knowledge as possible sites of intervention, it too falls short by treating the student sector as a homogenous group. The article is gender-blind and misses the opportunity to explore sexual relations, attitude, behavior patterns and responses between the sexes as well as issues specific to women.

Although the article rightly says lack of knowledge among college students makes them vulnerable to HIV infection, it fails to bring out the gender dimensions of this vulnerability. Studies have shown that female students tend to be more vulnerable to HIV infection than their male counterparts due to biological, social and economic factors. The multiple sexual partners the male students or working males have tend to predispose the young women to HIV infection. While the article emphasises the importance of condoms in HIV prevention, it does not discuss the power relations that go with condoms use. The article does not offer what needs to be done to empower young women to insist on appropriate condom use or how to negotiate for safer sex.

“Maua: A lone Struggle for Survival,” fails to refer to international and national rights-based discourse. It also fails to recognise the support Maua receives from her family, as such it is a missed opportunity to explore support systems and/or policies in HIV/AIDS health care. Often the care givers, as in the case of Maua’s family, are women, facing challenges with additional burdens. (Maua lives with her relatives and her sister takes care of her children.) State policy and practice within this context could have been explored.

The danger in this article is that subtle stereotypes can creep in. The article fails to comment on the Maua’s tenacity to survive for so many years against all odds. The “victim” image is core to the content and visually, inadvertently it reinforces negative type-casting of women as weak and helpless. The article does place gender on the agenda and as such it opens possibilities for greater exploration of women-specific discourse on the subject.
The last article form the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service shares the story of Linda Kabengele, who committed suicide after her community continually stigmatised her due to her HIV-status. This article points out some of the lack of gender considerations when it comes to stigma. Juliet Maundi from the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS says it irritates her to see AIDS messages literally cover the walls of ante-natal clinics and health centres where women usually congregate. “They don’t have the same posters covering the walls of bars or places where men are found,” she points out. “It gives the impression that HIV is about women and yet both need the information, men more so because they are usually the first to blame women for HIV infection and are in the forefront in stigmatising women.”


The two first articles lack sources that could have added richness to their articles. The first article relies solely on the voice of the woman. The absence of Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) commentary and/or organistions involved in this case skews the balance. From a journalistic perspective it would have been useful to test the claims for balance and fair reporting. Similarly, the use of other sources: experts, NGOs, rights-advocacy groups and healthcare workers would also have added greater depth to the story. It was a missed opportunity to provide readers with a reference to available resources and sources of information from a health, gender and human rights-based perspective. The writer would have increased the depth of the story by using family sources, especially as they were women who despite their own burdens, shared the load. The second article relies primarily on secondary sources and starkly absent is the views of the primary subjects: male and female students are ignored.

The third article includes the voices of two (one male, one female)well-know people who lived with HIV and subsequently died form AIDS-related illnesses. It also provides a comment from a woman from the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS. The sources provide a powerful insight into the stigma facing people living with HIV.

Discussion questions
– Is there gender-based difference in HIV/AIDs related stigma? Why
– Discuss and assess government initiatives and policies, or lack thereof, on the family as a critical stakeholder in HIV care.
– What is the role of media in reducing stigma? Are they doing it well? What do they need to cover the issue better?
– Should media houses have an HIV policy?

Training exercises:
– Identify stories relating to HIV and gender stigmatisation and discrimination in your community and explore its impact in respect of both rights violations and rights-discourse. Write a commentary.
– Conduct vox pops in your community to gather their views on HIV/AIDS prevention methods and chart their answers.
– Conduct research into what young people want from prevention and awareness messages.
– Map informal care/support systems in your communities.
– Draft a set of guidelines or policy for covering HIV and gender.

Links to other training resources
Media Action Plan (MAP) on HIV/AIDS and Gender

Care Work Fact Sheets




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Download : 10823_taking_behaviour_change_education_to_students_daily_news_7nov2009_.jpg

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