It was refreshing to hear Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa admit HIV thrives in “situations of unequal gender relations.” The trade unionist-billionaire businessman- politician made his remark as part of a speech at the country’s main World Aids Day event in KwaZulu-Natal.
Although Ramaphosa pointed out that the virus infects and affects people indiscriminately, the reality is that it is women who have borne the brunt of this disease, although men are the ones with a higher propensity to engage in risky sexual behaviour.
The reason for women’s increased vulnerability is connected to the “gender dynamic” that the Deputy President alluded to in his speech. It is this same “dynamic” that is responsible for the high levels of violence against women, yet we somehow continue to skip around it.
When we continue to normalise the abnormality that results in women entering into relationships with men as unequal partners, we should know we are practicing gross hypocrisy.
Polygamy and lobola
And ditto when we talk about “gender equality” whilst embracing practices such as polygamy and lobola that entrench inequality.
What is the sense of talking about equality if it does not translate into everyone being treated in the same manner as their peers and being granted the same opportunities?
Yet some people even froth at the mouth in defence of an invasive procedure like virginity testing that is supposedly done in order to encourage girls or young women to remain chaste.
In other African countries women are even forced to undergo female circumcision which not only mutilates their genitals and causes lifelong pain, but can actually result in death. This procedure is supposedly done to decrease a woman’s libido but in the same communities a promiscuous man is celebrated rather than shunned.
Last year The Herald ran a story about a Limpopo man who launched what he called “South African Virgin Girls Awards” – an initiative to encourage girls to remain sexually pure in order to curb the spread of HIV/Aids and unwanted pregnancies. The irony here was that this particular man had fathered five children with four different women.
The difficulty in addressing these kinds of contradictions lies in the fact that they stem from culture – something that many people consider sacrosanct and untouchable.
It is culture that is the bedrock of patriarchy with the idea that a woman’s role is to show deference to a man and to allow him to lead at all times.
As a result some young girls are trained by their mothers not only to be future homemakers, but men pleasers.
No wonder then that men feel entitled to have their way with women as the recent episode of the reality show “Our Perfect Wedding” showed.
This episode featured Fani Mkhwanazi who boasted about preying on 14 year old girls for sex while he was a 28 year old taxi driver. The episode’s airing stirred much controversy but it revealed a painful reality which was also confirmed by Ramaphosa.
He revealed that “2 300 girls and young woman between the ages of 15 and 24 become infected with HIV each week”.
There are various reasons for this gloomy picture but chief among them is the disparity between men and women in terms of power and equality.