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.