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[afro-nets] Born to be infected: We still can't protect our girls
- From: "YETTORE" <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2006 12:02:54 -0700 (PDT)
Born to be infected: We still can't protect our girls
Cross posted from Advocacy Nigeria <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Op-ed by Dorothy Aken'ova
MINNA, NIGERIA - The first known case of AIDS in Nigeria was found 20 years ago, in a 13-year-old girl. At the time, most policy-makers were blind to what that diagnosis would mean for women across our continent and around the world who continue to be infected in ever-increasing numbers.
Back then, I was 22 and attending university. Like most young women in Nigeria, I had very little say in decisions about my own life. My family had strict rules of conduct for me. I was not allowed to be seen in the company of male students. My brothers were my enforcers; if I "misbehaved," they would discipline me. My right to control what I wore, what company I kept, even the courses I took, was not respected. I did not count even in my own family.
Since then, I have dedicated my life to ensuring that every girl and woman counts for something -- to her family, to her community, to her country, and to the world.
In many places, including northern Nigeria where I work, tradition and poverty still dictate that girls as young as 12 marry older, sexually experienced men. Across Africa, a woman's right to choose whether and with whom to have sex is not respected. In South Africa, for instance, 30 per cent of women say their first intercourse was forced, and 71 per cent say they experienced sex against their will.
It is these rights violations that continue to fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS. In Nigeria, 58 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS are female. In Africa, 77 per cent of all new infections among young people are occurring in girls. Globally, 7,000 girls and women are infected with HIV every day. In short, the world's failure to make effective commitments to women's health and rights has been commuted to a death sentence for far too many.
How did this happen? World leaders are comfortable talking about HIV/AIDS. But they shy away from sexual rights. Too many of us live and work in contexts where any phrase that includes S-E-X is taboo, where a girl is considered too young to know about sex but old enough to die.
Stopping new infections requires a comprehensive approach, not just abstinence until marriage or directives to be faithful or use condoms. We can slow the pace of this epidemic if we promote mutual respect between men and women.
My group, the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, provides sexuality education and health services to more than 1,000 adolescents every year, because we know they need the information and services to grow up healthy and to protect themselves and their partners from HIV/AIDS. We must give them the tools they need: decision-making, communications and pressure-resistance skills.
We work with adult couples, because we know that women and men who are able to communicate clearly with each other are more likely to treat each other with respect -- to be faithful, for example. We advocate for the implementation of laws against sexual violence, because we know that women cannot flourish until they are able to live free of such violence.
Over the years, I have had the honour of working with countless courageous individuals who overcame their fears to work on these most private, difficult issues: parents and their children talking honestly about sex and sexuality; husbands and wives working with each other on their relationships.
It is past time for world leaders and policy-makers to be at least as brave. Governments, as well as international agencies, must invest substantial HIV/AIDS resources in educating our children differently, and ensure universal access for all girls and boys to comprehensive sexuality education. They must design, implement and enforce policies that frankly address issues such as violence against women and gender discrimination.
Bold, visionary leadership is desperately needed. This Sunday, I will join HIV/AIDS activists, business leaders and health professionals at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. And I will carry the memory of that 13-year-old Nigerian girl. For her and for the millions of girls and women who are at daily risk of HIV infection, we must let 2006 -- the 25th year of HIV/AIDS -- be the year that those in power act to change what it means to be born female in this world.
Dorothy Aken'Ova is executive director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights.