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AIDS fight, men make a difference
Vincent Nwanma, Africa Recovery
from Africa Recovery, Vol.15 #4,
other African countries, is marked by a "patriarchal society," says
Mr. Owei Lakemfa, a leader of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).
"Men think they have the liberty to have as many wives or girlfriends
as they want," thereby contributing greatly to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Given this reality, he explains, Nigeria's central trade-union federation
believes that "a lot of attention should be given to men" in the
struggle to combat the disease.
Mr. Ubon Akpan,
a Nigerian media executive, agrees. He highlights the inordinate
power that men have over women in economic, political and family
life. "The man has the financial backing," he says, "as well as
the backing of tradition." In many African cultures, he points out,
adultery is considered a "female crime," while men are permitted
to "parade" multiple women.
Ms. Nkechi Nwankwo
of the Women Leadership Group, a non-governmental organization (NGO)
in Nigeria, believes that aspects of traditional culture can themselves
be utilized to alter men's behaviour. Although men exercise considerable
power over women in traditional African cultures, she says, those
norms also obligate men to take care of their wives, children and
other family members. "Real men protect women from HIV/AIDS," proclaimed
T-shirts worn by participants in a workshop for media practitioners
from Nigeria and Ghana organized by the NGO in Jos, Nigeria.
another group, known as Padare/Enkundleni,
argues that prevailing notions of male roles and behaviour can be
changed, both through more open dialogue with women and through
critical self-examination by men themselves. Initially organized
by a group of male friends, Padare has since grown into a network
of 13 groups of men across Zimbabwe, one of its founders, Mr. Jonah
Gokova, told Africa Recovery in New York. The organization
received an "Africa Leadership Prize" from The Hunger Project, a
US-based international NGO, in October.
"Now it's time
to take on the challenge and begin to find a way of discovering
who we are and encouraging each other to project a positive image
of manhood that is not dependent on the oppression and abuse of
women," Mr. Gokova says. In addition to questioning gender stereotypes,
Padare addresses the spread of HIV/AIDS, asking men: "What role
have men played in perpetuating unhelpful assumptions that have
resulted in women taking the burden of HIV and AIDS?"
of positive action are in line with the "Men Make a Difference"
campaign of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other
anti-AIDS organizations. Their goal is to complement prevention
programmes for women and girls with work that more directly involves
men as well. "The time is ripe to start seeing men not as some kind
of problem, but as part of the solution," declared a May 2000 UNAIDS
that women are at a disadvantage in negotiating sexual relations
with men, Nigeria's NLC takes a very practical approach, by trying
to convince the many men who belong to its affiliated unions to
use condoms. The labour federation does not preach, says Mr. Lakemfa,
or tell its members "don't do this or that." It seeks instead to
help its members identify the dangers and issues involved. "All
you can do is to help a man reach his own conclusions and make his
The NLC has
a membership of about 5 million. It encompasses all industrial labour
unions in Nigeria, as well as teachers, non-academic staff at educational
institutions up to the universities and employees of the local government
councils. "Most of our members are men," Mr. Lakemfa says, adding
that the congress's size and composition place it in a "unique position"
to carry the anti-AIDS message down to the grassroots.
As part of its
campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS, the NLC has held several
workshops of trade union leaders, coordinated by full-time union
staff employed specifically to work on its AIDS campaign. "The strategy
is to get the union leaders sufficiently enlightened and organized,
and let them mobilize their own members," says Mr. Lakemfa. For
example, at an AIDS rally on 16 October 2001 in Abuja, the capital,
the NLC invited union leaders from the states and mandated them
to hold similar rallies in the 36 state capitals. In turn, other
rallies and events will be held at the unions' 778 local government
council headquarters throughout Nigeria.
Padare/Enkundleni is finding it harder to promote condom use. "There's
quite a high level of awareness," says Mr. Gokova, "but it is very
difficult for a man who is married to agree to use a condom with
his wife, since condoms are [considered to be] for prostitutes."
This is one of the beliefs that need to be changed, he says, to
achieve some meaningful results in the "Men Make a Difference" campaign.
UNAIDS, "In many cultures, fathering a child is regarded as a proof
of masculinity. This belief virtually proscribes condom use, providing
increased opportunities for HIV infection within the family, and
possibly to the next generation through mother-to-child transmission."
Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), an affiliate of
International Planned Parenthood, has also been involved in the
campaign to reach men. It enlists community-based "agents" to talk
to men in rural areas about sex, health and family planning issues.
The agents include tailors, barbers and other rural professionals
who are trained by the PPFN in sexual and reproductive health matters
and are expected to share that knowledge with other men as they
pursue their trades.
"The idea is
that as other men come to patronize them in their shops, the agents
will educate them, and also sell health kits to them," says Mr.
David Omorebokhae, a PPFN communications officer. The programme
is based on the assumption that the selected agents "know the men
in the community who are exposed to risk, and can counsel them on
the need for change in sexual behaviour and use of contraceptives."
sells the agents non-prescription contraceptives. They in turn sell
the contraceptives to the men who visit their shops, retaining a
25 per cent sales commission as an incentive.
PPFN is currently developing another campaign aimed at men, specifically
truck drivers. "They are responsible, to a large extent, for the
spread of HIV/AIDS," says Mr. Omorebokhae. The first known AIDS
patient in Nigeria -- discovered in 1986 -- was a truck driver.
UNAIDS has identified
long-distance truck haulers as a group that is especially exposed
to risk in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Their jobs take them away from
homes for days or weeks, and they often move from one region to
another, engaging in sexual relations with different women along
The PPFN programme,
launched in October 2001, seeks to recruit and train drivers to
educate their fellow truckers about the need for safe sex and other
AIDS-prevention issues, starting initially in the states of Edo,
Kano, Niger and Jigawa. It will include the use of community theatres
to entertain the drivers at major stopover points. So in addition
to education, the campaign will provide the drivers with alternative
forms of relaxation, other than sex with the commercial sex workers
who ply their trade along the truck routes.
the National Employment Council for the Transport Operating Industry
works with truck drivers on similar programmes.
Assemblies of God Church, Ikate, in Surulere, a suburb of Lagos,
holds Sunday evening programmes to educate its 2,000 members about
the dangers of HIV/AIDS. It brings in outside speakers, such as
Dr. Dickson Eze of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, who recently
explained to parishioners how men are far more likely to infect
women with HIV than the other way around.
"We want to
create awareness by bringing in experts to speak on this deadly
disease," explains Rev. Samuel Oshodipe, the church's pastor. While
the education programme is for every member of the church, he says
the prime target is the younger members.
The church now
makes HIV/AIDS testing a pre-condition for the marriages it conducts,
"so that an innocent party does not enter into trouble unknowingly,"
says Rev. Oshodipe. He realizes how difficult the campaign will
be, but believes it will make an impact if "we can preach more and
teach more about the purpose of marriage. We should be able to teach
men that the purpose is not only sex." The church, he says, emphasizes
the Biblical injunction that men honour their wives and give them
Eze told of one case in which a husband was HIV-positive and the
wife HIV-negative, but she insisted on sex without a condom so that
she could conceive another child. Such complex responses to the
anti-AIDS message emphasize the importance that UNAIDS and other
campaigners attach to greater dialogue on sex and family matters
among and between the sexes. They insist that men, women, children
and other community members talk openly and frankly about issues
that were previously regarded as the exclusive preserve of men.
Efforts to promote such dialogue require sensitivity and a lack
of recrimination, they say, since neither men nor women should be
blamed for the disease's spread.
In talking with
their children in particular, says Ms. Nwankwo of the Women Leadership
Forum, fathers need to learn to listen to open discussions about
sexual subjects that have long been regarded as taboo. They also
need to know that "shouting their children down is not the answer."
need to be found to help women negotiate safe sex with their partners,
Ms. Nwankwo argues. Improved education will be key, since women
"tend not to know what to do." Above all, she says, women "need
to be encouraged to be assertive."
empowerment is also crucial
the fight against AIDS, intensified efforts are needed to "challenge
gender stereotypes and attitudes, and gender inequalities in relation
to HIV/AIDS, encouraging the active involvement of men and boys,"
declares the Declaration of Commitment adopted at the UN General
Assembly's 25-27 June special session on the disease. At the
same time, says the declaration, the "empowerment of women" is fundamental
for reducing their vulnerability to infection.
this should include "the elimination of all forms of discrimination,
as well as all forms of violence against women and girls, including
harmful traditional and customary practices, abuse, rape and other
forms of sexual violence, battering and trafficking in women and
girls." The declaration also cites discrimination in inheritance.
In many parts of Africa, there are no effective legal provisions
for women to inherit land and assets from their deceased husbands,
often leaving widows destitute. Legal reforms backed by implementation
mechanisms would go a long way toward preventing the downward spiral
into poverty that makes women and children even more vulnerable
may be freely reproduced, with attribution to "Africa Recovery,
United Nations". For more information on the UNAIDS Men
Make a Difference Campaign, see the Website www.unaids.org/wac/2001/index.html.
UNAIDS has programme advisers in most African countries who can
help involve local groups in the campaign.
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