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December 1, 2009
Gender politics drives high HIV rates for African women

Gloria, who is HIV positive, in Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town where the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is holding an AIDS awareness campaign. South Africa. Photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank

Ayo Johnson is a contributing blogger for Worldfocus. His full post on HIV in Africa can be found here at his blog Africa Speak International.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that there are currently 33 million people in the world living with HIV. There are an estimated 24 million people living with the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 61% of those infected are women. In South Africa and Zimbabwe 75% of young people infected are girls between the ages 15-24.

Factors that have contributed to HIV increase are cultural taboos and gender inequality. It is difficult for women to choose their sexual partners, how often they are intimate, or to demand the use of condoms. Women are also more vulnerable than men due to the prevalence of underage sex, early marriage, polygamous relationships and female circumcisions.

In South Africa, rape and drug dependency make women vulnerable to sexual exploitation and infection. In Sierra Leone, it is common practice for so-called “sugar daddies” to offer schoolgirls material goods and cash in return for sexual favours, often exposing them to the disease. This can happen with the consent of older family members who are powerless to act due to poverty and ignorance.

UNAIDS urges governments to get the right laws and policies in place to ensure women are educated and empowered — for example the ability to keep land, homes and assets when their husband dies.
Governments need to reverse policies on gender inequality, forge closer relationship with NGO’s and private entities, and encourage community-based support groups, clean drinking water and good nutritional food. Failure to provide these basic human requirements risk women becoming an endangered species and endangering the fate of human race.




We have changed the image from the previous picture, which depicted a painting of a woman. We should note that the image was not chosen by the writer.

Thanks for the comments.


A simple search of a non sexist, non racist image bank could have solved this misrepresentation of African women suffering the scourge of HIV and AIDS. With the staggering levels of African women living with HIV or losing their lives because of the onset of AIDS I feel this article deserves something more tangible, visually. As it stands, the image used above is reminiscent of a colonial cartoon or something to that end.


Clear snapshot. It is all very well to say education and the empowerment of women will go a long way to ending the inequality and exploitation.. it is the doing of these long overdue things that presents the fundamental challenge.

The United Nations needs to put women’s rights front and center of its programs in Africa (and elsewhere) and have some enforcement authority, the ability to impose penalties. Otherwise, we’ll still be “talking” rather than doing something about this issue a decade from now.


This is equally as frightening as it is disgusting! In order to get the right policies in place, we must first of all raise awareness on such issues, only then will action be taken. the problem with Africa is many of our problems occur under the radar with the rest of the world oblivious.


We did not put women down in Neolithic times during the woman domimnated period. We men wariors changed the game and religion took women from the rib of man. Now we have social inequality between the sexes. We were ignorant and we remain ignorant. A bird has two equal wings, so should human society. Women becomes one with man when humanity becomes truely human. Until then we can not build a healty human society as is evidenced by this AIDS treatment inequality.


[…] from a jam jar, a hideous caricature of Black women – an act of violence. It comes with this article on gender politics and […]


I guess the question is how will we tackle the issues of not only political inequality but also convincing families and societies to see the connection between their views on the role/rights of women and the increasing rate of this deadly virus. We obviously know and realize that its not only African women that are negatively effected. The physical, psychological, and political degradation of women leads to degradation of these countries. Government can do so much good without the consent/support/encouragement of the people it governs. My question is: what are people doing now to improve the conditions? and how can I, a Sierra Leonean-American who recently graduated from college, contribute and help?


I was not aware of these statistics, I am also not surprised. We have countries that invest in their youth…. Then we have countries like Sierra Leone, Nigeria etc Where you find young girls sleeping with anything as long as it will pay for fees, pay for food and other responsibilities she may have.


Ayo: I appreciate your article and was wondering about the government structure in Africa. Are women allowed to participate in the political process? Voting, holding office, lobbying efforts, etc… In order for change on the treatment of women in Africa to become a reality, I’m thinking the women are going to have to be the force behind that change and demand change or else.


I don’t mean to be rude but this article actually tells us nothing new. Not to say these issues don’t matter but we need multi-pronged solutions which tackle root causes. Addressing the economic problems which keep women subjugated will go a long way in controlling this epidemic. The sugar daddy phenomenon, for example, is hardly unique to Sierra Leone. Poverty drives many girls into these situations. With better economies come more independent women who can stand up for themselves, seek better education – and treatment, should they still contract the virus.


Until goverments start treating this as a medical issue and not a moral or ethical one, this problem will continue to grow.


What I meant to say in my previous comment was -clearly- that religion should NOT be allowed to interfere with the teaching of sexual education in school.


Women’s vulnerability in Africa is frightening as it is disturbing. Complacency and ignorance about HIV & AIDS however mean that even in the West far too many young people have unprotected sex. More information is required particularly in schools and religion should be allowed to interfere with sexual health awareness.


The government in African countries empowering women would go a long way in gender equality.The taboo associated with AIDS in African countries should be removed and people enlightened not only by the government but also in schools and churches.


thank you for the succint snap shot of how AIDS has disproportinately impacted african women based on gender inequality. only after rwanda’s genocide of murder and atrocities were laws inacted guarenteeing female political participation through quotas. what do you think will be the tipping point in africa in which women are given the dignity to live their lives in safety from sexual predators? i realize this element will always exist , but i hope we do not have to wait until the female population is decimated before we all take notice.


How could i believe that AIDS is a reality when it transmission especially that of the mosquito bite is written off and so clear emperical scientific proof.What’s the mission still to unfold.

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