Men can make a difference, The Weekend Observer

Date: January 1, 1970
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The author challenges men to use their power to eradicate the unequal gender power relations that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The author challenges men to use their power to eradicate the unequal gender power relations that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

This article may be used to:
  • Provide information men, HIV/AIDS and breaking down stereotypes.

Trainer’s notes

Men and the HIV/AIDS epidemic
The spread of HIV/AIDS would be greatly reduced if a significant minority of men decided to use condoms when having penetrative sex and/or had fewer sexual partners. A host of cultural and social factors make it difficult for many men to change their behaviour, and thereby reduce their risk of contracting and further spreading HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS strikes at the core of male identity – at men’s sexuality. Men are brought up to believe that their sex drive is a crucial component of being a man, and that somehow men are not men if they do not have sex a lot, and with many different women. For many men, sex is as much about discharge – the relief of sexual tension – as it is about pleasure. So sex is considered to be incomplete if it does not involve penetration and ejaculation which may explain the importance many men attach to flesh to flesh sex.
Not all men want to act like this necessarily, but their upbringing conditions them to do so – to be a man, to be brave and to overcome their reluctance and fears. Seldom as part of boys’ upbringing do they learn the kind of survival skills that girls are taught, and as a result, many men tend to be ill prepared for the consequences and responsibilities that go with the pursuit of manhood. Many men also have low self-esteem.
When men living with AIDS are unable to perform their ‘manly’ duties as head of household and have to depend on others because of illness, they feel dependent and weak which affects their self-esteem. Men go into denial and fear revealing their status to their families or sharing their experience in HIV/AIDS support groups.
But not all men fit this pattern and therefore not all men are responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS. The media should bear in mind that not all members of a particular section of society act in accordance with the relevant trend. Nor can the identity of the individuals who make up the trends ever be determined. It is therefore wrong to single out men – or any other section of society – for spreading HIV/AIDS.
Breaking down stereotypes
This column, written by a man, is a good example of the other side of the story – how not all men think alike and how the male perspective on an issue can be gendered. The article challenges men to re-think the notion of masculinity in light of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to use the power they do have in sexual relations with women positively to make choices that will save their lives and that of their partners.
The tone of the article does not portray men as innocent bystanders, but as active participants who have a significant role to play in stemming the spread of HIV. The article also avoids placing blame on women or anyone else for the way men behave. The author makes men responsible for their own actions and therefore the ones who can and must consciously change their actions.
The author recognises several of the key links between gender and HIV/AIDS:
  • the power in sexual relationships is not in the hands of women;

  • safer sex is a man’s responsibility because of women’s inability to negotiate safer sex;

  •  the link between gender violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS; and 

  •  ‘manly’ behaviour of having more than one partner is key in the spread of the virus.

He then challenges men to turn break these patterns and recognises that social norms and the status quo can be changed. By doing this, the writer makes it clear that men, women and society in general benefits. In other words:
Key point:  the author posits the view that there can be a win-win situation when men behave differently towards women. Many articles in the media on changing the gender relations that exist often come from the angle that men will lose and women will gain.
This article, written by a man, challenges men not to believe and not to act out gender stereotypes which are detrimental. The last paragraph of the article indicates the author’s bias or preference not to recognise same sex relationships between men. Women too are encouraged to step out of the norm of quietly accepting whatever a man does, and to say ‘no’ to men who do not respect them. This article in several respects encourages men to re-define masculinity.
Training tip: Ask trainees to cite other examples in the media on the role of men in the HIV/AIDS pandemic which perpetuate or break stereotypes. Examples can be gathered before using this case study and also used in the discussion. The trainer also can look for articles on men and HIV/AIDS to compare with the approach taken in this case study.
Training exercises
Exercise one: Discuss the following statement: “Women are vulnerable to HIV, men are at risk” (taken from Gender and HIV/AIDS, A Training Manual for Southern Africa Media and Communicators, p. 91):
  1. What does the statement mean? Do you agree with it? Why or why not? Explain answer.
Exercise two: 
The following excerpts are from testimonies of two young men with HIV/AIDS who at the time of the interview had multiple sexual partners. (taken from Gender and HIV/AIDS, A Training Manual for Southern Africa Media and Communicators, p.94)
Tony :”I told my girlfriend that I was HIV positive, and several times, she’s asking me: ‘But sometimes I don’t believe you are infected’. But I tell her that I am. But she continues:’ Why don’t you look like other people (with AIDS)? You are healthy, you are not sick.’  So I said: “Okay, if you don’t trust me, let’s go, you and me, to the STD clinic and I can prove that I’m not lying”. I can’t keep it (my HIV status) to myself. There’s no need to keep it secret because…it’s best to inform your partner about the situation you are in.”
George: “A number of times I have met a girl, and we have used a condom when we have sex. But after a few weeks, they start wanting to have sex without a condom. I can’t bring myself to tell them that I am HIV positive. Nor can I run the risk of infecting her. So instead I end the relationship”.
Read the quotes and answer the following questions:.     
  1. Is their behaviour manly?
  2. Do they conform with the behaviour we expect of men who have multiple sex partners?
  3. What other issues are raised by the quotes? (eg. what women expect; what views people hold about what people with HIV/AIDS should look like.)
Exercise three: Read the case study ‘Men can make a difference’. Discuss the following
  1.  In what ways does the story re-inforce or break stereotypes of what male behaviour should be? Explain using examples from the column.
  2. What links between gender and HIV/AIDS are raised by the writer?
  3. What perspective comes through the article? Explain the answer. 

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