Men share the burden of HIV and AIDS care

Date: January 1, 1970
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?When a man falls sick, his wife or a female relative is expected to take care of him. Yet when a woman falls sick, she is returned to her natal family to be looked after by female relatives,? said Felistus Mombe, 33, a female home-based caregiver from Chitungwiza in Zimbabwe.

According to the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (2004), up to 90 percent of the care due to illness is provided in the home by women and girls. With the advent of the AIDS pandemic, the responsibilities of women as caregivers have increased.
Community initiatives in some parts of Southern Africa, however, show that if men and boys are equipped with relevant information and the necessary skills, they can participate in home based care programmes. Padare (the Men’s Forum for Gender) in Zimbabwe is one of the organisations that has been successful in coming up with programmes to involve men as partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“We have mobilised men through our chapters found in areas such as Gweru, Mutare, Chinhoyi, Mabvuku Tafara and Chitungwiza so that they see the importance of taking part in home based care activities,” said Tapuwa Manyati, Padare’s Knowledge Management officer.
Through a comprehensive training programme in areas such as Mutoko, Padare has managed to convince men that taking care of the sick is work for every member of society. At the end of the training, the participants are provided with care kits that contain supplies such as gloves and bleach to enable them to cope effectively. “The fact that the number of men who want to be included in home based care programmes keeps on increasing on a daily basis is a sign that they are willing,” said Manyati.
Before carrying out the training programmes, Padare conducts consultative meetings with the groups of men they target in order to identify their needs and challenge gender role stereotypes.
Eunice Garan’anga, technical adviser palliative care with the Hospice Association of Zimbabwe (HOSPAZ) noted that critical issues on palliative care emerge during workshops and stakeholder meetings conducted between HOSPAZ and organisations such as Africare and Padare. The exchange programmes enable the organisations to share best practices.
Through the “Young people: We care” programme, Padare educates young men on the need to share the caring burden of AIDS with women and girls. “We need to catch them young so that when they grow up they will be able to redefine their roles,” said Manyati.
The road to ensuring a fair shift of care between men and women is not an easy one. There are still some sections of society, especially in the rural areas, that are particularly invested in gender stereotypes of masculinity and machismo. In such a situation, there is need to engage traditional leaders such as head-men and chiefs. Such leaders can then be used to reach a wider audience since they command a lot of respect in their communities.
Garan’ anga said that visiting a female patient by a male home based care volunteer results in the raising of eyebrows, with some people thinking that the two must be pursuing a love affair.
The perception that men are breadwinners can also act as a barrier: “The general perception in most African societies is that if a man goes out, he should bring something,” said Garan’ anga. Echoing this, Manyati explained another problem is that a husband is not expected to look after his sick wife. “If a husband is seen helping his sick wife, people will say he was given a love potion.”
Caring for and supporting the sick needs to be the responsibility of every member in the community. Experiences from Padare and Africare have shown that ensuring a shift of the caring burden of AIDS from women and girls to men and boys is possible.
Godsway Shumba works for SAFAIDS. This article is part of a special series of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service produced ahead of the SADC Heads of State summit in Lesotho from 17-18 August by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance comprising ten NGOs that promote gender equality in the region.

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