South African women need more than World Cup condoms

by Amy Clare // 9 March 2010, 18:32

HIV/Aids is now the biggest worldwide cause of death and disease among reproductive-age women, according to the BBC’s report into a new initiative by UNAids, the UN’s HIV/Aids agency. The initiative aims to identify the gender issues responsible for women being disproportionately affected by the virus, and address them.

From the BBC article:

“One of the key issues, [UNAids] says, is that up to 70% of women worldwide have been forced to have unprotected sex... The agency says that experiencing violence hampers women's ability to negotiate safe sex. It warns that, nearly 30 years from the beginning of the epidemic, HIV services do not respond to the specific needs of women and girls.”

The initiative will attempt to more effectively analyse how the epidemic affects women, and integrate information about violence against women in HIV prevention programmes. This is a great idea, and long overdue to say the least.

And then... there came this news story from The Guardian this morning, reporting on how the UK Government are planning to send 42 million condoms to South Africa in preparation for this year’s World Cup. This donation is in response to a request from President Jacob Zuma, who has asked for a billion condoms as part of an HIV-prevention drive ahead of the influx of thousands of football fans.

From the report:

“The South African government estimates that up to half a million visitors could travel to the country, raising fears of a rise in prostitution and sex trafficking from neighbouring countries and eastern Europe, and creating a potential HIV timebomb.

Last week South Africa's Central Drug Authority warned that 40,000 prostitutes were expected to arrive for the month-long tournament.”

Now, I think we can all agree on the sensibleness of condom use whenever penetrative sex is had. But this makes me uncomfortable for several reasons. Firstly, there is the obvious assumption being made, completely unquestioningly, that football fans (and presumably footballers too) will be having sex with prostitutes while in South Africa (never mind those football fans who might not be straight males, or might just want to, y’know, watch football). This assumption is made without any kind of judgement - seemingly without any recognition from the UK Government that if a male fan were to do this, there’s a good chance he would be raping the woman or girl in question.

Secondly, who is being protected by this donation? Surely this is about the UK simply wanting to ensure its citizens don’t catch HIV from South African prostitutes and bring it back to this country. Furthermore, call me cynical, but Zuma’s request seems like it is an attempt to evade the diplomatic nightmare of his country infecting thousands of foreign nationals with a deadly disease, and the subsequent effects on the tourist industry this might have, rather than a show of any real concern for the most vulnerable people in this situation: women and girls, South African and immigrant, particularly sex workers. After all, this is a man who, while being tried for the rape of an HIV-positive family friend in 2006 (he was acquitted), testified in court that he took a shower to reduce the risk of HIV infection; he later had unprotected sex with a family friend's daughter, who became the mother of his 20th child.

South Africa is a country where one in five adults are living with HIV/Aids, and young women are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than men of the same age. HIV prevention programmes need more of the UK’s support all the time, not just when British football fans happen to be taking a jolly over there. And if UNAids’ initiative is to succeed, then our Government needs to be saying to any tourists going to Africa (not just football fans), and indeed everyone everywhere, not just ‘wear a condom’ but don’t commit violence against women.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 09 March 2010 at 19:47

It makes 'sense' for South Africa to request 42 million condoms for the forthcoming football bonanza. After all must protect men from contracting HIV/Aids from women must we not. Irrespective of the fact HIV/Aids is predominantly passed from heterosexual males to heterosexual females via penetrative sex. It is not the sexual orientation which causes HIV/Aids, it is penetrative heterosex which is far more dangerous to women than to men. However, challenging the male centered notion that PIV or PIA are the only real 'sex' requires a huge cultural change. Still, never mind protecting men is far more important than reducing the numbers of women and girls being infected by men and boys who believe piv and pia is their inalienable right and woe betide any woman or girl who says no.

By the way, President Zuma has fathered another child - I do not recall men giving birth to babies and hence men cannot 'produce children.' The phrase 'the mother of his child' sends the message women are vessels of men's children since male mythology tells women only men 'conceive children and children belong to men' - not women. Correct terminology is 'father of the child.'

Amy Clare // Posted 09 March 2010 at 20:15

@Jennifer:

"The phrase 'the mother of his child' sends the message women are vessels of men's children since male mythology tells women only men 'conceive children and children belong to men' - not women. Correct terminology is 'father of the child.'"

Fair comment; although I wrote 'the mother of *his* 20th child' not to suggest that the woman in question is a vessel, rather to make the distinction that the child was his 20th, but presumably not *her* 20th.

Jeff // Posted 09 March 2010 at 20:37

@ Jennifer,

"By the way, President Zuma has fathered another child - I do not recall men giving birth to babies and hence men cannot 'produce children.'"

Oh really? So that makes Thomas Beatie...what, exactly?

Shea // Posted 09 March 2010 at 20:49

ugh Zuma is despicable.

This is despicable. Can't the football fans just go to the world cup to watch football without having to take advantage of the thousands of poor, vulnerable women working as prostitutes. This is horrible.

It would be nice to see our government taking more of an intitative in providing antiretroviral drugs at a price South Africans can afford, rather than protecting big pharma here.

And yes, showering to protect from HIV! I despair..........

Lynne Miles // Posted 09 March 2010 at 20:51

Interestingly, there were similar issues around providing prostitutes for World Cup tourism in 2006, which I wrote about here. Wonder if FIFA are going to be any more responsible about it this time, or continue to pretend it's nothing to do with them?

Rita // Posted 10 March 2010 at 10:05

I find these stories on south Africa and HIV very upsetting. OK, there is a problem. But why is it their problem that fans are going to have sex instead of watching football. Why is it their problem that there are ignorant fans who know nothing about HIV, are misinformed about HIV(condoms are not 100% safe). Why is South Africa taking on the responsibility of thousands of fans whom their governments and media have ensured that they are not responsible for their behaviours while away. I am more afraid of HIV free south africans now, because it seems like many are ignoring the fact fans might be infected and if they are going to have sex while there, they might infect the HIV free south africans. And what is all this buzz on people going to have sex at the world cup? Has this happened to every other host country before and have they recieved this amount of publicity regarding HIV or is it just south Africa? Last time i checked, HIV was a global problem and it knows no colour or background or whatever. It is like people are living in a bubble and in denial and are happy to believe that HIV is in only in poor countries. I feel sorry for all those who believe this.

BareNakedLady // Posted 10 March 2010 at 16:39

"This assumption is made without any kind of judgement - seemingly without any recognition from the UK Government that if a male fan were to do this, there’s a good chance he would be raping the woman or girl in question."

So it's NOT okay to assume that football fans (who demographically are mostly men) will want to have sex on holiday, but it IS okay to assume that there is a 'good chance' they will become rapists?

How exactly??

Amy Clare // Posted 10 March 2010 at 17:36

@BareNakedLady:

If a man has sex with a prostitute who has been pimped, trafficked, otherwise coerced, or is underage, then he is committing rape.

An increase in the number of prostitutes, many of them trafficked, coming to South Africa to coincide with the arrival of football fans was mentioned in the original story as the main reason for the condoms. It is not just a matter of 'having sex on holiday'. We're not talking about holiday romances here. What isn't okay is to assume that male fans will have sex with prostitutes and that this is acceptable behaviour when trafficking is such an issue.

I'm sure most of the single, straight male football fans will *want* to have sex while on holiday, but here's the thing: it isn't their right to have sex. It's the right of women and girls *not* to have sex, if they don't want to. A right which pimps, traffickers, and many punters, don't give a crap about.

It would have been nice if the UK Government had attempted to address that issue, rather than simply handing over condoms.

lucy // Posted 10 March 2010 at 19:57

@Rita

"And what is all this buzz on people going to have sex at the world cup? Has this happened to every other host country before and have they recieved this amount of publicity...?"

Every country to hold a major football championship receives coverage concerning Prostitution (world cup 2006: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-backs-bigger-brothels-to-fight-world-cup-sex-explosion-518673.html, Euro 2008: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/05/this_poster_is)

And of course HIV is still a problem in the rest of the world, but even here in Switzerland, where we have the highest rates in Europe, only about 0.6% of adults are positive, and the vast majority of them are on antiretroviral therapy that keeps the risk of them infecting anyone very low. In contrast, in South Africa almost 20% of adults are HIV+, and only about half are on any therapy.

Shea // Posted 10 March 2010 at 21:16

@ Amy Clare, seconded. It is questionable why these men would want to have sex with women who are likely to have been trafficked, coerced or driven to prostitution by gruelling poverty. And no men don't have a right to sex, no one does.

Also as an aside, why can't these men bring their own goddam condoms and therefore save their own f*%king lives( and possibly the lives of the women they are going to have sex with)?!

@ Rita, not sure if that was aimed at me, but I actually agree with everything you've said. I think there is a bit of racism here, in the belief that woman in SA must have HIV, whereas the nice, clean white men won't. When we know for a fact that transmission rates are rising fast in this country and predominantly among hetereosexuals. Also what Jennifer Drew said, HIV is much more likely to be transmitted from male to females, not the other way around.

Jeff // Posted 11 March 2010 at 12:20

In regards to the possibility of racism in the "belief that women in SA must have AIDS", I would actually disagree. I don't necessarily think that it's racist to assume that some of the people in the country with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world (around 11% of the total population I believe) will have AIDS.

I do, however, think the tacit approval, or at the very least acceptance, of the huge amounts of prostitution that will occur at the Cup by our goverment in winging a bunch of condoms that direction is really, hideously disgusting.

Shea // Posted 11 March 2010 at 13:51

@ Jeff, no its not racist to assume that women in SA will have HIV given the prevalence. I find it mildly racist to assume that white, heterosexual men from the UK automatically won't.

Jeff // Posted 11 March 2010 at 14:29

@ Shea,

No more racist, surely, than your assumption that the England fans travelling to SA for the cup and hiring prostitutes whilst there will be exclusively white?

Shea // Posted 11 March 2010 at 21:58

@ Jeff, (last post, I think this is derailing the discussion).

I don't think its more racist than the assumption given the prevalence of HIV in SA. England has a white majority, is it racist to assume that the majority of fans will be white, men? Hardly! A cursory glance at the terraces of any England game will confirm that is the case.

Its hardly a racist assumption.( Also I never put anywhere that they would *exclusively* be white). The majority will be though.

Rita // Posted 11 March 2010 at 23:28

I have seen some article i don't rememnber which tabloid rag, which clearly included a picture of a black female sex worker and called her a murderer and that people should watch out for her, and clearly stated how that particular area was only occupied by blacks, and a poverty stricken area. It was clearly disrespectful and i know for a fact that South Africans would not print any British person's photograph, label them a murderer because they have HIV in such circumstances (world cup time). I know that there is a stereotype that runs in the uk about black people, gay people and drug addicts having HIV aids.
@ Lucy, but there still is a risk. I would not even sell that to anyone in poor countries because some tend to believe that anyone from developed countries is HIV/AIDS free, because they have the medication that still makes them look healthy and live for long. The poor people have strong stereotypes regarding HIV and it is those very reasons that yield high infections. Anyone looking healthy or from a rich background is HIV negative, give them a bit of money for sex, make them believe that you are negative and many will believe. Many will feel intimidated and inferior and give in with out even questioning. It takes only one person and a few minutes to cause a chain reaction of infection. Whether a country has the lowest number of HIV people, it takes one person to pass it on to a person in poor countries and it spreads. There is alot of Vulnerability there. I know South Africa has got this massive buzz on HIV because it has a high rate of HIV BUT they are not responsible for anyone. People should be responsible for themselves.

@ Shea, no i was not directing the post at you. I was having a morning rant, but based on some other article i had read about this, reading this article reminded me.

Jeff // Posted 12 March 2010 at 08:44

@ Shea (also my last post on the subject)

"I don't think its more racist than the assumption given the prevalence of HIV in SA. England has a white majority, is it racist to assume that the majority of fans will be white, men? "

Precisely. Compared to the 11% prevalence in SA, in the UK it is extraordinarily low, differing from source to source but probably less than 0.5%. Just as it is not racist of you to assume that the majority of fans will be white, given Englands white majority, I do not believe it is racist to assume that those England fans (whether white or not) will be HIV free, given it's very low prevalence in the UK.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 12 March 2010 at 09:27

you just gonna argue about who can be contrived as more racist?

Amy Clare // Posted 12 March 2010 at 10:20

@Laurel, I'm trusting that Shea and Jeff will stick to their word and not pursue this particular racism argument any further!

BareNakedLady // Posted 12 March 2010 at 15:55

@AmyClare Sorry, I didn't read the articles carefully enough. Thank you for correcting me.

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