AIDS & You
By Gayle Gonsalves
Guyana Chronicle
December 1, 2002

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TODAY is AIDS Awareness Day. Approximately five million people will be infected with the disease in 2002, bringing the total number infected to 42 million people. About 70 per cent of the cases are in hard-hit sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new U.N. report on the extent of the global epidemic. In this region, 58 per cent of the infected population is female, who contracted the virus from male partners.

There are no known cures for the disease, yet people continually take risks with their sexual encounters. People have to take proactive choices with their sexual lives in order to stop the spread of the virus. There is only one step to take -- wearing a condom. Although this appears like a simple act, it is obviously not as easy as it appears as witnessed by the increase in the number of AIDS cases on the earth and especially in the Caribbean, which is the region after Africa with the highest infection rate in the world.

The social structure in our society has helped create the increased infection rate we’re beginning to witness and if it continues to grow, AIDS will become part of a living nightmare causing devastation to our landscape and lifestyle, as witnessed in Africa. Sexually active adults who are not in monogamous relationships need to wear condoms. This should become a rule but although this may seem like a simple solution, it is not practised.

When loins are on fire, sexual responsibility is forgotten. Our men are notorious for finding excuses not to wear condoms. Most of us women have heard excuses such as: “it doesn’t feel the same”, ‘it’s not big enough to fit me”, “it’s a batty boy disease’, “I can tell if a woman has AIDS’ and “I’m not seeing anyone other than you”. I’m sure there are a few that I haven’t mentioned. It’s time for the women to have rejoinders to their simplistic answers.

For “it doesn’t feel the same” - “Once you’re in, you’ll forget about it being on.”

For “it’s not big enough for me” - ‘they come in different sizes and you’ll find one that fits.”

For “it’s a batty boy disease” - “Many women who have only male partners have caught the disease.”

For their belief that they can tell if a woman has AIDS (if referenced to their previous relationships) - “That’s what Tyrone said about Judy, now he has AIDS” (these are not real names).

For their promise of fidelity and your uncertainty - “That’s what Tyrone told Judy before she caught AIDS from him”.

In our patriarchal society, men truly believe they have the right to go ‘bareback’ and women must acquiesce. This belief is held from married men who have affairs to single men. But there is no law written in any religious document or at parliament that makes this a divine right. Women do have the justification to insist that their partners wear condoms to protect themselves and the future of their families.

Recently, I read the story of an African woman whose husband had wandering tendencies. After the birth of her third child, she was hospitalised with a strange illness and feared she might be diagnosed with AIDS. She tested negative for the disease but that scare made her change her sexual practices because she recognised if she caught AIDS from her husband, her children would eventually be orphaned. She also knew that her husband was considered to be a ‘catch’ in society because he had financial means and women were willing to sleep with him for material gain. She frankly told her husband that there was to be no sex without a condom. At first he refused but as time passed, he agreed recognising the validity in her request.

AIDS is a disease of misinformation and ignorance and these two causes can be remedied. Women must play strong roles in the conduct of their sexual lives to ensure their safety and the future of their family. We must be honest about the actions of our partners and acknowledge when a condom needs to be worn. I’ve heard stories of women catching ‘diseases’ of sorts from their male partners. One day, one of those ‘diseases’ might not be curable.

The actions of today impact upon the future of our society. As women, if we hold strong to our resolve, our men will comply because they will recognise the wisdom behind our decision. Historically, women have never been fully able to comprehend their power in carving and shaping future generations because our thoughts and wisdom are given in silent, unmeasured ways. But we do shape our society with our voices and integrity. With AIDS, we must ensure that our wisdom guides our decisions and not let the power and guile of the male erase years from our lifespan. There are several certainties in life and one of them is that no sexual encounter is worth one’s life. Tell your daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, neighbours that they must practise accountability in their sexual practices and take the necessary precautions.

When it comes to AIDS, women must take a strong maternal role and look upon everyone in our society as part of our family network. We must freely dole out advice to our children.

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