Some News in Brief

// 11 November 2008

Here’s what Obama is planning to do for women. All sounds remarkably, well, the starting of good things for women! Most positive measures seem to me to be acknowledging the gender impact of HIV and Aids (but sadly without the connection to how male sexual practices are a major cause of this), supporting a woman’s right to choose including expanding access to contraception and preventative services and reducing domestic and sexual violence against women in the US and abroad and fighting for pay equity. What are your top choices?

However he might like to add covering the cost of rape kits for US armed forces personnel given the news that they are currently excluded from the health care provided to the Forces. What does that mean? Women military personnel have to pay for their own rape kit collection and analysis.

Just after the world gets the truth on the 13 year old stoned to death in Somalia comes the case of Taslim Solangi in Pakistan. Taslim (also spelt Tasleem) was a pregnant teenager who was accused of infidelity and, it was asserted, the baby didn’t belong to her husband. The response? She was forced to go into labour prematurely, the baby was drowned in a canal and Taslim was thrown to a pack of dogs. Who did this to her? Her father-in-law, Zamir Solangi, tacitly supported by the local populace. Zamir Solangi has not been apprehended despite issuing death threats against Taslim’s mother since murdering Taslim. Taslim’s father has claimed that the accusations of infidelity were the result of a dispute over land rights. Female representatives in the Pakistani Parliament held a walk out over the case.

And today’s fluff – over here is the absurd idea of National Men Make Dinner Day. Why do men think they need a round of applause for the smallest domestic tasks? Here’s a hint women don’t feel that need, y’know, get over it. Men eat, usually daily – some men cook for themselves everyday. Instead of patronising men and women how about celebrating something that deserves it?

Oh and over here is some bloke having a go at Nell McCafferty, Irish journalist and campaigner, for appearing in an art exhibition (he’s too cowardly to put his name to it!). Her portrait is naked and the McCafferty is apparently pleased to have been photographed saying she sees herself as “gorgeous” (which indeed she is). However the editorial writer in the Irish Herald believes…

At every point in our lives, our bodies and faces send messages beyond our control. The perky breasts and rounded bottoms of teenage girls send a message of sex and child-bearing capacity. That’s why, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the young body has been the focus of sculptors and painters. The professor who has showcased the Naked Nell portrays himself as challenging this tradition. Yeah, right…The mystifying bit is Nell’s rationale. Here’s a woman who, for 40 years, has been on the frontline of feminism, with her rallying cry of “Sisters!” Feminism, in the 60s and 70s, was about moving women away from being sex objects and forcing society to see them as equal citizens, not represented by half-naked models draped across car bonnets or fully naked Playboy bunnies photographed in an artful way to make money for Hugh Hefner. Nakedness gives Nell another go on the media roundabout. That’s good. But open people’s minds to the wondrous beauty of age, “as nature intended”? Forget it.

Irish Herald

OK so lets just unpick that a bit – no wait according to the writer everything either is about sex or should be. No much to unpick there – obviously because he doesn’t find McCafferty sexually alluring she should therefore cover up and not challenge that misogynistic stereotypes spouted here. Obviously.

Comments From You

JenniferRuth // Posted 11 November 2008 at 5:12 pm

I have to say it, but I kinda agree with that journalist at the Irish Herald. What is so radical about showing yourself naked? Yes, I get the point that showing older bodies can be subversive in our society that is obsessed with youth, but does it really change anything? Frankly, I would rather fight against being seen as a sexual object PERIOD than fight to be seen as a sexual object at any age. I’m not an object – I’m a woman.

Nell can get naked all she wants. I don’t give a fig. But if she is doing it to “challenge tradition” or empower women then I’m gonna call it the bullshit it is.

Kath // Posted 11 November 2008 at 5:57 pm

Nakedness doesn’t have to be all about sex despite what our sex-obsessed society tries to tell us. I wonder if that is what Nell’s portrait is about? Or maybe she just fancied her portrait done without clothes. It’s not an explicitly sexual picture. I don’t get the impression she is asking us to consider her a sexual object, just a naked person.

nell McCafferty // Posted 11 November 2008 at 6:13 pm

the journalist is a wonderful woman, terry prone. she misunderstood my self deprecating comment that i am gorgeous. i was actually posing in support of long life second hand cars, under the slogan “It”s the engine, stupid.”

love

nell

Paul Hodge // Posted 11 November 2008 at 6:23 pm

” Most positive measures seem to me to be acknowledging the gender impact of HIV and Aids (but sadly without the connection to how male sexual practices are a major cause of this)”

Blaming men for AIDS. A new low.

jennifer drew // Posted 11 November 2008 at 6:56 pm

Ooh can’t challenge male sexual practices now can we? After all women do not contract aids because of men’s sexual practices. It is similar to saying end violence against women only we mustn’t put that word ‘male’ in front of the phrase.

Likewise Taslim Solangi was murdered because she was used as a pawn in respect of landrights. Taslim’s child does not belong to the father neither did she conceive a man’s child. Yes, I know patriarchy claims children are owned and conceived by men but using this language reinforces male supremacy.

Nell McCaffery has ‘shot herself in the foot’ because if a woman removes all her clothes in order to have her portrait painted she is saying ‘look I’m just another female sexualised commodity.’ No wonder the male journalist had such a field day denouncing her ‘feminism.’ Now if a man had his portrait painted showing him full frontal and totally naked – that would be a feminist action because male bodies are not seen as sexualised commodities. Instead they are protected and hidden. Better still men and women keep your clothes on – there are far too many paintings of naked women painted by male artists for male voyeurstic pleasure.

maggie // Posted 11 November 2008 at 8:31 pm

Nakedness at all ages is to be celebrated. I have to agree with the wonderful Nell on this one. Obviously nubile nakedness touched a nerve with him.

More worrying in this report is that of the teenage mother whose forced premature baby was drowned and who herself was thrown to a pack of dogs.

In the human scale of things this makes me sick.

Sian // Posted 11 November 2008 at 9:00 pm

I have a lot of sympathy with JenniferRuth’s p.o.v. there-rather like the whole Gok Wan thing. But I don’t appreciate the article’s tone with its pseudoevolutionary stuff about preferring younger bodies.

National Men Make Dinner Day:

The other ridiculous thing about it is that recently many men who otherwise do little/no housework will actually cook (surprise surprise-no doubt because cooking is FAR more fun than cleaning) AND expect to be praised to the skies for it. I’d appreciate it more if it were National Men Scrub the Bathroom Whilst a Screaming Toddler Pulls at their Trousers Day.

Louise Livesey // Posted 12 November 2008 at 9:53 am

I am sorry you think so, Paul. Unfortunately UNAID and the UN Women’s Health organisations have both pointed out for some time how the transmission of the HIV virus is largely connected to men’s sexual behaviours and women’s lack of power. These include unprotected sex with multiple partners, the rise in unprotected anal sex in the belief this reduces the chance of contracting HIV, the rise of unprotected sex with younger partners in the belief this reduces the chance of contracting HIV, the use of rape as an act of war and the purposeful infection of sexual partners as part of sexual violence again women and so forth.

These are all tied into dominant configurations of male sexuality and compounded by societies in which women, relatively, have little power. The fastest rising HIV contraction rates are in the developing world and especially in countries which either have civil or military conflict or those in which women hold least power. As both UNAID and global women’s groups have argued until women have the power to meaningfully withold consent or to enforce condom use the rates the HIV infection will continue to rise.

Kath // Posted 12 November 2008 at 9:58 am

Nakedness doesn’t have to be sexual, whatever our sex-obsessed society tells us. Maybe that’s what Nell’s portrait is trying to say, or maybe she just fancied having her portrait without any clothes. It’s not an overtly sexual image. I don’t get the impression she’s asking to be seen as a sexual object at an older age, just as a naked human being.

Sabre // Posted 12 November 2008 at 10:06 am

@ Paul Hodge

re. blaming men for AIDS. A new low.

You made the assumption here that us feminists are just ACHING for excuses to blame men for the ills of the world. Did you even research male responsibility for the spread of AIDS, particularly in the worst affected African countries? I did, and in a mere ten minute of Googling found this out:

The issues are complex but can be boiled down: men are the major spreaders of AIDS in many countries. Due to social ideas of masculinity (in African countries at least), many men are reluctant to undergo circumcision (controversial, but some believe it reduces infection) or wear condoms. Male promiscuity and the promotion of aggressive (hetero) sexual behaviour also plays a big part. See this Amnesty press release (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT77/087/2004/en/dom-ACT770872004en.html) about the relationship between violence against women and the spread of HIV/AIDS. And in fact a quick google search will provide you with a wealth of information on how male sexual practise is a major (but not only) reason for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I’m no expert in this but I recognise there is a massive gender dimension here. Perhaps (and I mean this kindly) you could educate yourself before posting such comments. Instead of assuming we’re just looking for something to moan about.

Kath // Posted 12 November 2008 at 10:07 am

Hi Louise, I think it’s just best to be explicit with what you mean about things like “male sexual practices” because not everyone considers these issues everyday and wouldn’t know what you are talking about. Your reply to Paul explains things pretty well but initially it wouldn’t have been clear to someone who wasn’t aware of these issues and could even be read as blaming homo/bisexuality.

Ruth Moss // Posted 12 November 2008 at 10:24 am

National Men Make Dinner Day – oh fgs!

As Sian points out making dinner (or tea in our house) is one of the few chores some men will agree to do; it’s “creative” it’s being a “chef” and it’s something that demands praise. And you can use every single dish in the house in the knowledge that you won’t have to wash them up!

I like Sian’s idea but I’d go further, how about national “men pick up your toddler and comfort hir and try to calm hir down when ze screams instead of thinking that putting CBeebies on at top volume will console hir and somehow counts as parenting” day, or “men do the housework while your wife/partner actually gets to do some fun stuff with the toddler instead of always having to be the one who says ‘Mummy’s too busy doing the housework to play go ask Daddy'” day.

In fact, why stop at a day? Why not a week? A year? Why not an entire lifetime where ALL men do their fair share?

Paul Hodge // Posted 12 November 2008 at 10:50 am

Louise,

Of course we have to address the issues and some of those you raised are entirely men’s fault (rape during war and in peace time for example). But Most AIDS is transmitted in Africa by consensual sex between poor people with little education or even the money to buy a condom. The superstitions about AIDS and prejudice that hampers education is shared by both sexes. I lived in southern Nigeria and I know the promiscuity and ignorance is the fault of both sexes. I have had girls not want me to use a condom for some ridiculous reasons.

Maybe men are more responsible because they are more likely to search for sex, but the business of tackling AIDS is not blame competition. In the West the main problem has been with gay men but would never use AIDS to beat them as you have done to men. I have read some awful (though a lot of it factual) stuff on homophobic right wing christian sites.

The language you use does matter, because tackling AIDS is about changing attitudes and reaching out and not reinforcing prejudice. I share the same concerns as you but I don’t think you have used the right language.

Louise Livesey // Posted 12 November 2008 at 1:21 pm

the business of tackling AIDS is not blame competition

I agree completely. But it is about acknowledging the realities of how HIV is spread and that means naming risk taking behaviours (there’s a euphemism!) including those by men. Where women lack the power to refuse sex without a condom or refuse sex completely they cannot be held culpable for their infection and partly that involved challenging patriarchy.

Now fastest growing group of HIV diagnoses are heterosexuals contracting HIV through sex (rather than needle sharing etc).

You can talk about the “right” (for which I read acceptable to you) or “wrong” language but in the end the important thing is whether women can protect themselves from unwanted or unsafe sex. Currently the answer across most of the world is no.

Paul Hodge // Posted 12 November 2008 at 1:44 pm

Louise Livesey

“You can talk about the “right” (for which I read acceptable to you) or “wrong” language but in the end the important thing is whether women can protect themselves from unwanted or unsafe sex.”

And you can talk about the right language to use when talking about female, gay and African sexual practices. It quite simply because sexist, racist, homophobic language is wrong. And it gets in the way of the genuine message.

Louise Livesey // Posted 12 November 2008 at 3:23 pm

Please substantiate your accusation of sexist, racist and homophobic language, Paul.

And also please see the following UN publications/sites which say exactly the same thing I have been saying. HIV must be tackled for all populations, but in terms of lessening the infection rate in women, men’s sexual practices and social practices have to be a key focus.

UNAIDS

As men who have sex with men may also have sex with women, if infected they can transmit the virus to their female partners or wives. Although sex between men is often associated with a discrete HIV epidemic, it should also be regarded as linked to the epidemic in the general population. In a project in Senegal (Dakar), 88% of men who had sex with men also reported vaginal sex, and 20% reported anal sex with a woman. In a study in China, half the men who have sex with men reported having sex with a woman, and one third of them were married. In some cities in central and eastern Europe, one third of men in gay venues reported having both male and female partners.

UNAIDS Gender

Gender norms, for example, often dictate that women and girls should be ignorant and passive about sex, leaving them unable to negotiate safer sex or access appropriate services. Gender norms in many societies also reinforce a belief that men should seek multiple sexual partners, take risks and be self-reliant. These norms work against prevention messages that support fidelity and other protection measures from HIV infection. Some notions of masculinity also condone violence against women, which has a direct link to HIV vulnerability, and homophobia, which results in stigmatisation of men who have sex with men, making these men more likely to hide their sexual behaviour and less likely to access HIV services. (See “Women and Girls” and “Men who have sex with men” for more specific information on the impact of gender inequality on vulnerability to HIV).

Gender inequality both fuels and intensifies the impact of the HIV epidemic and is most effectively addressed on the national and community level. In the context of HIV prevention, treatment, care and mitigation, this reinforces the need for interventions that are directed at individual people. Reducing gender inequality requires changing social norms, attitudes and behaviours through a comprehensive set of policies and strategies.

UNFPA

When AIDS emerged in the 1980s, it mostly affected men. But today women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV worldwide. Over the past two years, the number of HIV-positive women and girls has increased in every region of the world, with rates rising most rapidly in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa, 76 per cent of the young people (aged 15-24 years) living with HIV are female.

The feminization of the epidemic brings into sharp relief the inequalities that shape people’s behaviour and limit the options women have to protect themselves. Many women are very vulnerable to HIV even though they do not practise high-risk behaviour. In some places, marriage itself is a risk factor.

Poverty may, for instance, force girls or women to trade sexual favours for food to feed their families, or prevent individuals from buying condoms.

The World Health Organisation says

Gender norms related to masculinity can encourage men to have more sexual partners and older men to have sexual relations with much younger women. In some settings, this contributes to higher infection rates among young women (15-24 years) compared to young men. Norms related to masculinity, i.e. homophobia, stigmatizes men having sex with men, and makes them and their partners vulnerable to HIV. Norms related to femininity can prevent women – especially young women – from accessing HIV information and services. Only 38% of young women have accurate, comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS according to the 2008 UNAIDS global figures.

HIV/AIDS programmes can address harmful gender norms and stereotypes including by working with men and boys to change norms related to fatherhood, sexual responsibility, decision-making and violence, and by providing comprehensive, age-appropriate HIV/AIDS education for young people that addresses gender norms. Violence against women (physical, sexual and emotional), which is experienced by 10 to 60% of women (ages 15-49 years) worldwide, increases their vulnerability to HIV. Forced sex can contribute to HIV transmission due to tears and lacerations resulting from the use of force. Women who fear or experience violence lack the power to ask their partners to use condoms or refuse unprotected sex. Fear of violence can prevent women from learning and/or sharing their HIV status and accessing treatment.

Gender-related barriers in access to services prevent women and men from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care. Women may face barriers due to their lack of access to and control over resources, child-care responsibilities, restricted mobility and limited decision-making power.

And more.

And the UNDP has a leaflet devoted to women and HIV which again emphasises the need to tackle male behaviour to protect women from HIV infection.

UNFPA

Despite this alarming trend, women know less than men about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and how to prevent infection. What little they do know is often rendered useless by the discrimination and violence they face, and their relative powerlessness to refuse sex or negotiate safe sex, especially in the context of marriage.

The UNIFem resources are here and includes this from Nairobi about the need to address sexual and gender based violences in HIV prevention strategies, this from Beijing saying a key plank in preventing HIV infection is to get men to respect women moer and this rather fantastic feminist critique of male discourses of HIV (including why it isn’t enough to argue that women need to not blame men for infecting them) from Zimbabwe activists.

The 2008 UN Report on HIV and AIDs reiterates similar points throughout.

Anne Onne // Posted 12 November 2008 at 4:54 pm

Everything has been explained really well, so I’ll try a different perspective:

Look, let’s say society punishes women for having sex more than it does men. Let’s say that it expects women to be monogamous, whilst men are expected to ‘sow their wild oats’ or more readily forgiven for doing so. Let’s say that society dictates that women should be passive, and accept sex, that sex with a husband is his right. This is not unique to Africa, nor is anyone suggesting it. But it is all relevant to the specific discussion on Africa and HIV, because much as I don’t like it, women in a lot of places are less privileged than here, and we want to change that.

A situation where men wield control, where men face less responsibilities for resulting children (physically and financially), where men are educated that they can and should get what they want from women will lead to men having privileges over women, and women being at greater risk. This is a problem everywhere, but we’re focusing on Africa.

Also, the vast majority of people who visit sex workers are men, most of whom won’t use contraception, and will then bring anything they caught to their wives. Even if their wives were monogamous (and in some cases, they’re sewn up so they HAVE to be) they could still contract HIV.

Again, this situation is not unique to Africa: it is a global problem. But in Africa, combined with George W. Bush’s idiotic policies which focus on abstinence and monogamy, which doesn’t protect you if your partner sleeps with other people, and is unrealistic. The gall of telling people to just put up and never have sex if they want to stay safe!

It is also easier to transmit HIV from a man to a woman than vice versa because of differences in the reproductive system, which puts women at additional risk.

http://hivinsite.ucsf.edu/insite?page=ask-01-01-23

http://www.thebody.com/Forums/AIDS/SafeSex/Archive/TransmissionSexual/Q9134.html

Nobody is saying HIV is unique to Africa, or that misogyny or men holding power over women is unique to Africa or POC. It is not, and I would hope that when sexism in other cultures is discussed, it is always grounded with the fact that this is not unique to any people or culture. That said, the specific problem bieng addressed in the article, and in the point, is HIV transmission and the way African women are let down.

There is a difference between the right wing wanting an excuse to see POC as inferior creatures who need to be punished for their actions, and progressives who want to give people around the world all the benefits we’ve worked hard to attain. We recognise that in Africa (as well as here) lack of education, myths and underlying patriarchy harms men and women.

nell mc cafferty // Posted 13 November 2008 at 9:01 pm

when the artist robert ballagh did a self portrait of himself, totally full frontally naked, galway town council removed the painting from the exhibition. he was exploring gender issues . circa 1985. i’m exploring the ageing process, 2008 and there has been no censorship, except for pious newspapers which paradoxically use page three female breasts. let the debate continue.

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