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ZIMBABWE: Secrets and silence around AIDS
Makombe, Inter Press Service (IPS)
March 29, 2005
As AIDS affects a growing number of women and girls in sub-Saharan
Africa, a timely novel has been released by first time Zimbabwean
author Lutanga Shaba which tackles the factors underpinning women's
vulnerability to HIV.
of a Woman's Soul', the novel recounts the story of Beata, a mother
struggling to ensure a bright future for her daughter Linga. Told
from Linga's perspective, the novel is based on actual events in
Salisbury, as the capital of Harare was known during the colonial
era. It moves back and forth in time as Linga, who is preparing
to bury her mother, recalls her childhood and the sacrifices made
earn enough money to further the education of her daughter, Beata
finds herself forced to have sex with an unscrupulous man in exchange
for a job. Ultimately, she contracts HIV.
hint of moralizing - and with unexpected touches of black humour
- the novel lays bare the fact that calls for abstinence or "condomising",
central to AIDS initiatives for women, often mean little to those
who are poor and powerless.
the United Nations Development Fund for Women, 55 percent of all
HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa are women, while teenage
girls are five times more likely to be infected than boys.
joint report by three U.N. agencies at the Fifteenth International
AIDS Conference held in Thailand last year, Thoraya Obaid - head
of the United Nations Population Fund - said AIDS campaigns should
be expanded to meet the real needs of women and girls, as they often
lacked the social and economic power to push for fidelity or condom
use. Obaid also noted that that abuse of women heightened their
risk of contracting AIDS. (The report in question was entitled 'Women
and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis'.)
The fact that
the international community has not already addressed these issues
angers Shaba, who says the failure to discuss actual problems confronting
women simply compounds the dangers presented by HIV. She is also
frustrated by the ongoing stigmatization of AIDS, which throws an
added spoke in the wheel when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.
the novel because I was angry. I didn't feel my mother needed to
die when she did and I was angry about the way the stigmatization
around her disease made her silent, the way the medication was hard
and the way the world makes it worse by moralising
about the disease," Shaba says.
Her novel also
highlights the fact that discussions about the sexuality of HIV-positive
people are taboo - and that this too stands in the way of people
getting tested for the H.I. virus.
beings are sexual beings," she says, "and the message
that comes through from the silence is that you are better off not
than to find out and have protected sex."
have been observed by Hope Chigudu, a leading gender activist and
one of the founders of the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and
of silence is loud," she observes.
When Shaba started
sending her manuscript to publishers, the response from these firms
amounted to less than a vote of confidence.
reactions from publishers were so polarised, and they didn't seem
to know where to locate it," Shaba says.
As a result,
she published the novel herself. A lawyer by training, Shaba hopes
that now the book has come out, a publisher will pick up on it and
distribute the work more widely. At present, it can be ordered online.
Sales from the
novel will be used to establish a scholarship fund for young Zimbabwean
women who have been orphaned by AIDS. Called the Mama Milazi Scholarship
Fund after Shaba's late grandmother, whom she describes as fiercely
independent and ahead of her time, the fund will enable beneficiaries
to embark on training in the business and information technology
fields, amongst others. (END/2005)
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