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RAISA Yebo - March 2003 issue
Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa/VSO
March 2003

RAISA is a initiative of VSO, which seeks to strengthen the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa through Government Institutions, Civil Society and NGOs.

Each year VSO RAISA holds a regional thematic conference for partners. This year the conference's theme was "Men, HIV & AIDS" and it was held from 11 to 14 February in Pretoria, South Africa. RAISA planned for 45 participants, but because of the high demand RAISA extended the number to 80! Here follows a short report by Mercedes Sayagues.

At the three-day conference, organised by the Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa of Voluntary Services Overseas (RAISA/VSO), activists and researchers from Southern and East Africa explored issues of male involvement in the pandemic.

Participants agreed that the concept and practice of masculinity needed to be reconstructed in ways that fit new socio-economic realities, from rural-urban migration to women's advancement, AIDS and unemployment. A new way of perceiving manhood would empower men to experience their sexuality differently and to take active community responsibility.

Studies and surveys presented at the conference showed that men and boys across the spectrum of race and class feel disoriented by socio-cultural changes taking place in Southern Africa.

"Today's system has lessened men's role as decision-makers," said Douglas Kabanda, a social scientist with the Promotion of Traditional Medicine Association of South Africa.

The sense of displacement and irrelevance, coupled with unemployment and poverty, undermines male self-esteem. It leads to sexual behaviour that puts them and their partners at risk of HIV/AIDS, such as promiscuity, irregular or no condom use, violence and alcohol and drug abuse.

Many, if not most men do not engage in such behaviour. But they have little visibility in the predominant discourse of "men as drivers of the epidemic", analysts noted.

Thus, negative male images channeled by the media and by society "are internalised by young men, turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Sebastian Matroos, of the Youth Skills Development Programme of the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria.

Matroos works with marginalised young men - unemployed, drug addicts, drag queens and male sex workers - in Pretoria townships. "There is more rejection than inclusion with the result that young men feel blamed for all social evils and withdraw," he explained.

"Changing the relationship in masculinity and HIV risk is about far more than just changes in behaviour and technology, but rather about transformation in the very identity of men," argued Graham Lindegger, of the School of Psychology at Natal University, in KwaZulu-Natal, South

Lindegger described the major findings of a study on how masculinity is constructed and maintained in South African schools and the effects of race and class on these constructions. The overall finding for all types of schools is, in the words of a principal that "our boys seem to be lost".

On the positive side, several AIDS interventions in the region report some success in involving men in non-traditional ways.

In Malawi and Zambia, two home-based AIDS care programmes in villages are succeeding in recruiting men as volunteer caregivers, which traditionally has been a woman's job.

Out of 600 caregivers in 52 villages, 200 are men, reported the Tovwirane AIDS Association, which works in Nsimba district in northern Malawi.

The conference addressed often marginalised issues, such as male-to-male sex in prisons, risk behaviour among drug users, the sexuality of young black gay men in townships, male sex workers and male rape.

Another common theme was the need to shed the "macho" image and allow men to express, not repress, their feelings. "Nelson Mandela cried when he announced his divorce and when he visited his mother's grave. This is a powerful role model that men can identify with," said Mbuyiselo Botha, of South Africa Men's Forum.

Summing up the conference, Brett Anderson, a Cape Town-based AIDS activist who is HIV+, said: "Men should think not about what we stand to lose but what we stand to gain."

Read feedback from some of the countries



  • ‘We miss you all’, Noerine Kaleeba, SAFAIDS, ISBN 0 7974 2525 X
  • ‘Men and HIV in Lesotho’, SAfAIDS, UNAIDS. 2002
  • ‘Men and HIV in Zimbabwe’, SAfAIDS, PANOS, UNAIDS 2001
  • ‘Partners for Change’, UNFPA, ISBN 0 89714 592 5
  • ‘Gender mainstreaming in HIV/AIDS, taking a multi sectoral approach’. Commonwealth secretarial Publisher. ISBN 0 85092 655 6


If you would like a conference report you can contact your country RAISA co-ordinator, see email addresses under the countries feedback.

RAISA would like to acknowledge the generous donation of materials from SAfAIDS towards the conference. If you would like to give feedback on the content of the SAfAIDS materials, or if you would like more information contact or

Visit the VSO Zimbabwe fact sheet

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