Many reluctant to go for HIV tests, The Herald

Date: January 1, 1970
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Zimbabweans still shun HIV testing due to fear, stigma and the lack of information on the advantages of knowing one?s HIV status.
Zimbabweans still shun HIV testing due to fear, stigma and the lack of information on the advantages of knowing one?s HIV status.

This article may be used to:
  • Explore how ‘the personal can be professional’.
  • Using sources to show the personal perspective.

Trainer’s notes

The personal can be professional

The first step journalists can take towards understanding HIV/AIDS is to look at how the topic affects their own lives. Many journalists fall into the millions throughout Southern Africa who have never taken an HIV test. Yet this one step could help journalists develop not only empathy, but help them to cover the issue from an informed perspective.

Empathy requires that journalists remove the layer of aloofness and check their own biases and prejudices that often lead to one-dimensional, stereotypical and misleading reporting on HIV/AIDS.

Sources and perspectives
The majority of the sources in this story are men. In fact, only one woman is accessed on an issue that women are greatly affected by. This raises two key points journalists must contend with:
  • Journalists inherent gender biases and prejudices continue to yield stories where only men are interviewed during the newsgathering process; and

  • Women often shy away from the media, because they have been socialised to be ‘seen and not heard’; and, women have little experience in dealing with the media and may fear (again because of socialisation) their opinions made public.
Men are the majority of sources in the article, the male perspective on the issue of testing and HIV/AIDS is dominant. The gender aspects raised by the male voices are:
  • Multiple partners is a way of life;

  • Men fear death;

  • Emphasis on chastity for young girls through virginity testing.

The reporter indicates that most of the men interviewed admitted to having more than one partner at some time in their lives. This is due to the fact that men are socialised to believe that masculinity is defined by their sexual prowess, and many partners is viewed as the “norm” for men and is not questioned.
Women, on the other hand, as indicated by the Chief’s statement on virginity testing, are socialised to be “pure” and “chaste”. But this assumes that women have control over their bodies and can protect themselves from sexual assault and gender violence when they refuse to have sex with men. This view also puts responsibility on women without giving them the power to effect change. Young boys and men, on the other hand, are not targeted to change their behaviour and social patterns which increase women’s and girl’s vulnerability to HIV.
The woman interviewed raises the issue of married women being unable to openly communicate and to negotiate safer sex with their husbands. She implies that while a married woman may be faithful, the husband may not be. Sticking to one partner, either in marriage or other forms of relationships, has not been an effective preventative strategy for the spread of HIV, due to the unequal power relations between women and men which governs their sexual relationships.
The story merely presents these perspectives without any challenge or questioning of the gender aspects which emerge. The chief, for example, appears not to have been questioned on the effectiveness of virginity testing and whether boys also were targeted.
The links between gender and HIV/AIDS and the gender aspects of testing, also could have been analysed through the voices of civil society organisations such as the Women and AIDS Support Network, Women’s Action Group and others to balance the voices and perspectives in the story. The data provided on the numbers of Zimbabweans going yearly for testing should be disaggregated by sex to give more insight into who, men or women, tests more for their status. Interviews with women and men could be used to analyse the findings.
The story is well written and clearly highlights silence, stigma, fear and discrimination as factors which cause people to hide their HIV status, or be unwilling to go for a HIV test. The story also illustrates how myths and wrong information on testing and the test kits keeps women and men fearful.
Many of the issues raised by the story, including open communications on HIV/AIDS in communities, depend on more equitable power relations between women and men. The reporter, without having an understanding of the link between gender and HIV/AIDS, misses this crucial point completely in the story.
Without a gender analysis, the story presents information that is out of context and therefore is of little use to women and girls who live in the reality of not having control over their bodies; who face different forms of discrimination when living with the virus than men do; and who often find it difficult to live positively because of their role as caregivers and lack of access to any form of treatment.
Training exercises

Exercise one: Answer the following questions:

  1. Have you had an HIV/AIDS test?

  2. Will you volunteer to undergo a test and write about your experience?
Although this is a sensitive exercise, it helps those in the communications business to challenge their own fears and prejudices before communicating on this subject to others.

Exercise two: Read case study and discuss the following:

  1. How many sources are in the story? How many are men? Women?

  2. What gender issues are raised by the men interviewed? By the women?

  3. What is the dominant perspective in the story? Use examples from the sources to explain.

  4. What are some of the messages conveyed by the article? Cite examples from the story.

  5. What data is missing?

Summary Session:
         1. Review pointers on the personal is professional.
         2.  Review the pointers on sources and perspectives.
         3. Review pointers on the link between gender and HIV/AIDS and a gender analysis of HIV/AIDS issues in the media.

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