Discriminatory Beliefs and HIV/AIDs

An interesting report from Physicians for Human Rights(pdf here) draws connections between the discriminatory beliefs held against women in Swaziland and Botswana and the high vulnerability to HIV/AIDS that these women seem to have (e.g. 75% of all Sub-Saharan HIV victims in the 15-25 age range are female).

There are lots of factors involved but a lack of control over sexual decision making, and legal and social gender discrimination leading to sexual risk taking seem to factor large in PHR’s study. To quote:

“Interviews indicated that many HIV-positive women are forced to engage in risky sex with men in exchange for food for themselves and their children. As one interviewee put it, “Woman are having sex because they are hungry. If you give them food, they would not need to have sex to eat.” ”

The whole report makes very interesting reading, but what is especially interesting is that PHR take the solution to the HIV/AIDS problem in Swaziland and Botswana to hinge on greater rights and equality for women. If women have more say over sexual decisions they can assert a desire to use barrier contraception. And with legally protected property rights etc. there will be no begging for food and shelter with its accompanying vulnerability.

I think this is interesting because it gives a nice case for questions about cultural relativity, and especially for stretching any intuition we might have in favour of leaving other cultures unquestioned. Here is a case where regardless of how we, as westerners, mis-read other cultural traditions, introducing legal rights and increased social standing for women looks as though it would alleviate a huge health problem.

More on pornography and labiaplasty

Further to Jender’s recent post on labiaplasty, Lih Mei Liao and Sarah Creighton have recently published a study in the British Medical Journal looking at the causes and effects of cosmetic labia/genitoplasty (here if you’ve got Athens). They interviewed healthy adults who had undergone surgical reductions in “normal” labia to find the reasons given for wanting this procedure. They found pornography was often implicated. To quote from the BMJ press release:

“Patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat with no protrusion beyond the labia majora, … some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from advertisements or pornography that may have been digitally altered.”

They also suggest that the increase in numbers having this surgery is leading to a further increase in numbers wanting the surgery. They argue that the increased numbers of cosmetically altered labia contribute to the narrowing of our ideas about what counts as “normal”, leading women to feel greater concern about their own bodies, thereby increasing demand for labiaplasty. Apparently, numbers of procedures on the NHS have doubled in the last five – since the NHS won’t perform cosmetic surgery in the absence of psychological trauma, it suggests these procedures aren’t mere whimsy.

Also interesting is that Reuters reported on this article and its contents (here). However, they didn’t file it under “Health and Science” and “Lifestyle”, but under “Oddly Enough”, their section for jokey and bizarre news events.

Fashionably battered

Jess McCabe at The F-Word dicusses Benetton’s new “Colors of Domestic Violence” ad campaign, featuring models made up to look like victims of domestic violence. Benetton’s been making shocking ads that they say are intended to promote good causes for a long time. And there’s no doubt that these ads do raise awareness of domestic violence. Still, there’s something a little troubling, given that our reaction to fashion ads is meant to be along the lines of “I want to look like that! I’ll go buy that sweater!” Hmm. What do you think?