Monday, August 20, 2007

Mixed Messages in U.S. AIDS Prevention Campaign

Recent studies conducted in Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda show that male circumcision, the surgical procedure for removing the foreskin of the penis, decreases the likelihood of HIV contraction by sixty percent. These shocking figures have led U.S. officials, namely President Bush, to reorganize the allotment of recently increased government funding for HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives and research in many Sub-Saharan African nations.

It seems that our government has received a wake-up call that the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa is a serious problem, and thank goodness for that. However, the message that our current administration continues to send to the people it intends to help is troubling in that it is inconsistent and sexist, putting women’s concerns on the backburner.

For one thing, the House of Representatives only recently agreed to disregard the Mexico City Policy, known by opponents as the Global Gag Rule, which banned the allotment of government funding to any organizations that provided abortion as an option of family planning and had a negative effect on many agencies and organizations that also happened to provide significant aid in the fight against HIV/AIDS by way of safe sex education programming and easier access to contraception for both women and men. Though the legislation was introduced in January of 2007 by Nita Lowey, a Democratic Representative for the state of New York, the House voted on the measure in May, and its overall review by the Senate has yet to happen. On top of that, there is the pending doom that awaits the bill once it reaches the hands of the President. Advocates of the bill in addition to many pro-life activists believe that President Bush will veto the bill due to his personal stance on abortion as well as that generally accepted by the Republican Party represents.

The access women have to abortion legally in Sub-Saharan Africa is limited, however, as is access to contraception. It’s a bit of a catch-22. Our government also continues to push the message of abstinence in countries that are most heavily hit by HIV/AIDS, which is unrealistic. Rape, for example, is rampant throughout South Africa, so much so that an anti-rape device has been created in hopes of protecting women who are attacked. There is also so much internal conflict that one easily loses track of how many women are made vulnerable each day by way of national instability that leads to war and ultimately the defilement of women and girls. Prostitution, while illegal, still exists, and due to the economic state of most of Sub-Saharan Africa as well as the lack of quality sex education and access to condoms, many female and male prostitutes engage in anything to make money, including unprotected sex, sometimes without a complete understanding of the risk.

So while I am pleased to report the news of the expansion of male circumcision, I lament the lack of attention paid to women’s needs. While we, on the one hand, seem convinced that no one in Africa is having sex before marriage, there is far too much evidence to the contrary to continue peddling such a message as an actual answer to the problem. There is some recognition that men engage in sexual activity, and our government acknowledges that they may engage in it without protection, hence the funding for the circumcision-based initiatives. Women’s reproductive rights and body autonomy hang in the balance, yet men will more easily undergo a procedure to help prevent the contraction of a life-threatening virus. It posits women as the dangerous ones. Men are metaphorically given a weapon against the virus, whereas women remain unarmed to protect themselves.

For more about the “global gag rule,” go here.

For more information about circumcision and the government funding connected to its use for HIV/AIDS prevention, go here.

-Wendi Muse


Joe in CA said...

Circumcision has not prevented AIDS in America. But it's going to be different in Africa?

Here is some inaccurate information:
"The cells in the foreskin of a penis are especially vulnerable to HIV"

Uh, no they aren't...


"The research reinforces studies showing that regions with high circumcision rates generally have lower rates of HIV."

Why don't they show the Brewer Study, published in March 2007, where it was concluded that circumcision in Kenya, Lesotho, and Tanzania actually INCREASES the transmission of AIDS?

That's right; because it would be devastating to the circumcision cause.

What a waste of (OUR) money. What a waste of surgery. What a waste of healthy tissue. What a waste, period.

And I bet that this will somehow translate into circumcising babies again.

This comic shows exactly how circumcision prevents HIV.

Wendi Muse said...

thanks for your feedback joe...i wonder, if the initiative takes off, whether or not we will see a drop in hiv/aids infection. i feel that this step, if not coupled with more sex education and access to contraception, will end up being a bit of a flop. but i guess we'll have to wait and see...

tiffanykapri said...

The current hype about circumcision and AIDS rate scares me. Not only am I skeptical of the validity of the claim that circumcision lowers rates of HIV infection, I really fear that focusing on circumcision could actually exacerbate the problem. The majority of males in the U.S. are circumcised (not my son) but we would never send our sons out with a false feeling of security that they are protected against this disease.