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[Opinion] Women and AIDS

Posted November. 26, 2004 23:17,   


The president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is in a fight with a female victim of sexual violence. The president, of course, did not actually commit sexual violence. What he did was to come forth and criticize a reporter, Charlene Smith, for calling African men “barbaric rapists” who have no control over their sexual impulses. After being raped herself, Smith is fervently involved in helping AIDS patients and the drive for the distribution of HIV prevention. She is adamant about her stance. What she is after is rape, namely the issue of power.

With only few days to go until World AIDS Day on December 1, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) released statistical data regarding the issue. This year’s remarkable feature is “Women and AIDS.” The report coincides with Smith’s assertion. The weak are more prone to being victimized, and the case is the same for diseases. Once an epidemic among male homosexuals, AIDS has now penetrated deep into the population of African women, the most un-empowered group, through globalization. The biggest proportion of female AIDS victims is concentrated in the southern part of Africa, to the south of the Sahara desert, accounting for 57 percent. Poverty and inadequate treatment facilities are at the core of the problem.

The rampage of AIDS in South Africa was a big mystery to the visiting professor at Princeton University, Helen Epstein. The identified reason was the notion of a “sugar daddy.” Otherwise known as encounters with minors, this form of relationship is widely accepted as love by most of the African population. It was a custom in South Africa for men to give a cow as a wedding gift to the wife’s family. However, most young men cannot afford a cow. Young ladies with high expectations will contract AIDS by going out with rich, older men who happen to carry HIV or AIDS. The unusually frequent cases of rape are also because there are few normal ways for a young man to meet a young woman.

The risk of AIDS falls considerably as women are better educated through the offering of knowledge and with confidence about sex, health, and life. Also, with increased economic power, less people will have to carry on unwanted lifestyles. Yet no one can define what happiness is, as it seems AIDS is preferred over sterility by a considerable number of women in Africa. Nevertheless, an opportunity for education before contracting the disease should be in order. In the case of Korea, though it is not clear whether it is a blessing or a curse, male AIDS patients outnumber the females tenfold.

Kim Soon-duk, Editorial Writer, yuri@donga.com