Western Cape considers providing antiretrovirals to employees, Business Day

Date: January 1, 1970
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The Western Cape government announces it is considering providing anti-retrovirals to its HIV-infected staff.
The Western Cape government announces it is considering providing anti-retrovirals to its HIV-infected staff.

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  • This article provides learning tips on mainstreaming gender in the news.

Trainer’s notes

Mainstreaming gender into the news

HIV/AIDS has been on the media’s agenda now for more than 20 years. In the beginning the media primarily covered the pandemic as a public health issue and focused mainly on how to prevent the transmission of HIV.

A large majority of people acquire the information and education on HIV/AIDS from the media. Therefore, the media has a key role to play in building an understanding of the factors that spread the virus and knowledge on how to manage and live positively with HIV. Left out of the media’s HIV/AIDS coverage were the socio-economic, cultural and gender inequality factors that perpetuate the spread of the virus.

Unfortunately, the media too has been a willing participant in the myths about how the virus spreads; it has relayed information on false cures; and, the media has created alarm by fostering stigma and discrimination.

One of the key missing stories has been the link between gender and HIV/AIDS. Women are most vulnerable to HIV because:

  • the unequal gender power relations make it difficult for women to practice safer sex;

  • young girls are often defenseless against demands for sex;

  • women and girls face the threat of sexual violence and are vulnerable to harmful cultural and traditional practices that spread the virus;

  • women have less access to information and education, as well as to prevention methods and treatment; and  the burden of care for those with HIV/AIDS is shouldered by women, who are often ill themselves.
Analysis of the case study

The case study on employment-related treatment has gender implications. But, as this story illustrates, media reports on employee access to antiretroviral drugs rarely look at the gender dimension. What is missing in the story is data on how many of the Western Cape employees are men and how many are women. If more men are formally employed than women, and are in higher level jobs, then they are more likely to get access to antiretroviral treatment. The question of who will benefit from access to treatment is key to the story.

The only sources in the story are male officials. Women and men employees infected and affected should be sourced to give a more holistic picture of the issue. Where women and men are on the employment scale in the provincial government also is important. Many companies provide antiretroviral therapy to permanent employees, and there may be a cut off level in terms of employment levels. Women, who often are on the lower scales and who are not permanent employees, may be most in need of treatment, but are still unable to access it in employment-related treatment schemes.

By highlighting this factor in the article, the media could play a proactive role to make the public and the Western Cape officials aware of some of the gender issues that need to be considered when deciding on how to provide antiretroviral treatment. The reporter could analyse the gender effectiveness of the antiretroviral therapy programmes of one or two of the corporations mentioned that in the story to highlight the issues the Western Cape should consider.

On the face of it, the Western Cape government’s announcement on the possibility of antiretrovirals for its employees seem laudable. A gender analysis of the issue could highlight potential discrimination and inequalities in the scheme under consideration.

Training exercises

Exercise one: Discuss the following

  1. What information is missing from the story?

  2. How can gender be mainstreamed into the story?

  3. Why is it important to highlight gender in this story?


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