Violence, sexual abuse, discrimination - the destiny of millions of people in Africa, just because they are born women
In ten years, women in Africa have moved from the fringes of the AIDS epidemic to its epicenter, despite the fact that in general they do not have more sexual partners outside marriage than men and despite the fact that in general they are not likely to be intravenous drugs users.
Sexual violence, forced prostitution through poverty, lack of education, are the three main reasons behind the statistics released by the UNO this week, which show clearly that ten years ago, women constituted 38% of AIDS victims. In Africa today, 58% of AIDS victims in Africa are women and in the 15 to 21-year-old age group with AIDS, girls outnumber boys by two to one.
The UN report was made by UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, which blamed rape, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, ignorance and fear for the majority of the cases, which have made Africa's women and girls more likely to become AIDS victims than the males, despite the fact that "they are usually not the ones with the most sexual partners outside marriage, nor are they more likely than men to be injecting drug users," as Kofi Annan declared on March 8th, International Day of the Woman.
According to the report, until men assume their responsibility and ensure that their daughters are educated, refrain from having sexual relations with younger girls as a matter of habit and understand that marital rape is a crime, the injustice will continue and Africa's women will continue to be the ones who suffer more from AIDS.
Noerine Kaleeba, an AIDS widow, the mother of 5 children and foster-mother of 14 others, advisor for the joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS, declared at the Women and AIDS Panel on Monday in New York that women need information, education, jobs and protection. "Girls do not sleep with older men because they think it is safe. They do so to pay school fees or to replace a father figure whom they lost", adding that "Sex workers do not agree to have sex without condoms because they do not know the risk. They do so because they get paid five times as much".
Lesotho is a prime example of Africa's plight. In 2004, the country is forecast to produce just 10% of its food needs, due to its third consecutive year of drought. 31% of the adults in Lesotho are HIV positive or have AIDS. 17% of the country's children are AIDS orphans.
If the current cycle continues, more and more young girls will forced into prostitution to feed their families, pay for their brothers to study or simply be raped by older men for sport as they go about their chores.
Meanwhile what is the so-called developed world doing to protect the women and girls of Africa? Dropping bombs on civilians in Iraq?