March 31, 2005

Keep Your Legs Crossed

President Bush is focusing his program against AIDS in Africa on sexual abstinence and marital fidelity, relegating condoms to a distant third. It's the kind of well-meaning policy that bubbles up out of a White House prayer meeting but that will mean a lot of unnecessary deaths on the ground in Africa.

The stark reality is that what kills young women here is often not promiscuity, but marriage. Indeed, just about the deadliest thing a woman in southern Africa can do is get married.

Take Kero Sibanda, a woman I met in a village in Zimbabwe. Mrs. Sibanda is an educated woman and lovely English-speaker who married a man who could find a job only in another city. She suspected that he had a girlfriend there, but he would return to the village every couple of months to visit her.

"I asked him to use a condom," she said, "but he refused. There was nothing I could do."

He died two years ago, apparently of AIDS. Now Mrs. Sibanda worries that she and her beautiful 2-year-old daughter, Amanda, have H.I.V. as well.

In theory, everybody agrees on how to prevent AIDS: the ABC method, which stands for abstinence, being faithful and condoms. But the Bush administration interprets this as ABc. New administration guidelines stipulate that U.S.-financed AIDS programs for young people must focus on abstinence or, for those who are already sexually active, "returning to abstinence." -

I wonder if Bush realises that these aren't people having casual, fun, birth-controlled sex. These are people living in such poverty that the difference between paying the rent and living on the street is a matter of $3 or $4. If I had to choose between sex with a condom for $1 or sex without a condom for $4 - I don't think I'd take the $1 option too often.

And what happens when partners just refuse to "have sex in a raincoat"? God knows, it's hard enough to practise safe sex in a loving relationship with enough money to purchase condoms by the bucketfull. It's almost seen as a sign of mistrust - "you want me to use a condom?! do you have something you need to tell me?"

Posted by phreq at March 31, 2005 08:16 AM | TrackBack

I still cant get past the idea that sex is always a negotiation not a right you impose on another.

A+B+C of the ABC will always fail because there is no freedom of choice.

Posted by: Vincent at March 31, 2005 01:09 PM

sex is often a desperate financial transaction in Africa and parts of Asia. You're right, there is no choice. And I doubt very much if there is a simple one-slogan-fits-all solution... each individual life has its own tragedy and its own potential for triumph or misery. Damn I wish there was something I could do though. It's like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Posted by: phreq at April 1, 2005 08:44 AM
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