In reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS several organizations are coming to the same conclusion: educating only women about safe-sex isn’t the answer when women are often powerless in the making decisions about sex. For the cycle to change, men have to become involved.
The leading national Latino AIDS organization, The Latino Commission on AIDS, recently released a report on the state of New York’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the Latino community. Latinos in New York represent 16 percent of the population, but account for 30 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS. Gender inequalities and oppression have caused an even more disproportionate amount of Latina women to be infected. Latinas make up nearly a third of HIV prevalence in New York City compared to only 8 percent of white women.
In a 2009 study based in the country of Puerto Rico, HIV researchers found that educating women about safe-sex fails to consider the dynamics of gender roles. These roles include sexual norms that are explicit in the Latino culture. Historically, machismo upholds hyper sexuality, power, authority and virility. On the other hand, Latinas live by marianismo, encouraging chastity, submission, inferiority, obedience and purity.
Men in the study had sex with multiple partners to prove their sexuality and were opposed to condom use because sex isn’t “real sex” without penetration and that condoms block spontaneity or sensation. Women in the study were not willing to discuses sex with their partner because of social taboos, fear of a negative or violent response, or being accused of infidelity.
The study found the responsibility of using protection was placed on the women, while the culture facilitates a dependence and deference to men. But, there were some positive gender roles that could play an important part in getting men to advocate for safe-sex.
Most importantly, the study found men more willing to use condoms by appealing to their role as provider and protector and that safe-sex practice increased their assertiveness and confidence in continuing the practice.
A good example of working with men to promote gender equality and safe-sex is the long running program established by EngenderHealth. In South Africa, the Men As Partners program holds workshops on what it means to be a man. Participants are asked to challenge long held beliefs on gender roles and compare the oppression of apartheid – which the men can relate to – to the sexism women face today.
EngenderHealth has developed the Men As Partners program in more than 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States.
The hope is that programs such as these will get advocates in the field to move on from focusing on women-only safe-sex education to asking how to identify and work beyond traditional gender roles in the whole community.
An advocate’s guide was recently released from the Battered Women’s JUSTICE Project and is available at the web site of the Office on Violence Against Women and the Minnesota Center Against Violence & Abuse at the University of Minnesota.
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