Integration - HIV/AIDS, International Policies, U.S. Foreign Assistance

Silent No More: Gender Norms and HIV/AIDS

The large banner stretched across busy Langata Road near Nyayo football stadium in Nairobi, Kenya declares, “We CAN End All Violence Against Women” as the traffic jam below grinds on. It signals the annual “16 Days of Activism” campaign – from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day) – against gender violence.  This two-week global advocacy campaign for women’s rights aptly envelopes World AIDS Day, for the issues of gender violence and HIV/AIDS are inseparable.

Here in Kenya, HIV/AIDS prevalence has increased in both urban and rural areas in recent years and the alarm bells have sounded. There seems to be growing recognition among policymakers and program managers that HIV and AIDS cannot be viewed and acted upon as solely a clinical matter. Deeply entrenched social norms make women and girls highly vulnerable to HIV – the central tenet of PAI’s newest documentary, The Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage, which premiered in Nairobi last week.

The Silent Partner touches on a handful of the socioeconomic factors
that predispose women–particularly married women–to HIV in sub-Saharan
Africa and elsewhere. The interconnectedness of physical and sexual
violence and HIV/AIDS is one issue highlighted in the 12-minute film
designed to spark debate and conversation at the community and national
level among policymakers, civil society and the media

“…When you are physically assaulting somebody, either
through punches or hitting them or raping them, then during that time
there is no prevention.”

Professor Alloys S.S. Orago
Director General, Kenya National AIDS Control Commission
from “The Silent Partner”

During the screening here in Nairobi,
the 170-member audience reacted passionately and a vigorous discussion
ensued – for nearly two hours.  Just the response we hoped The Silent
Partner would induce. One male audience member asked whether sex in
marriage was a right, a privilege or a choice. Another participant
pleaded for more sustained programming for boys and men aimed at
changing their attitudes and beliefs toward women and marriage.  Yet
another questioned whether the emphasis on ABC (Abstinence — Be
faithful – Condoms) for the past several years had distracted
governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from tackling the
social issues underlying their HIV/AIDS epidemics, and expressed hope
that U.S. HIV/AIDS assistance under an Obama Administration would look
and feel very different.

Under the guidance of African NGO partners, the objective of The Silent Partner
is to inform and provoke conversations across the continent. Through
individual stories and expert accounts, the film highlights the broader
socioeconomic factors driving HIV and AIDS, providing an entry point
for activists to explore the gender and societal norms that put women
and couples at risk. May the anti-violence banner over Langata Road, The Silent Partner, and other advocacy messages and tools help bring about the societal change that will benefit everyone.

Also published on RH Reality Check!

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