|© UNICEF/NYHQ2002-0323/ Pirozzi|
|A volunteer AIDS counsellor with Plan International during an HIV/AIDS awareness session with a group of adolescent boys in Zimbabwe.|
NEW YORK, USA, 31 August 2009 – The involvement of men and boys is imperative to reducing the spread of HIV among women, according to a panel of experts participating in a new UNICEF podcast – part of a series on children and AIDS.
Women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV prevalence rates are the highest in the world. In southern Africa, adolescent girls are about three times more likely than adolescent boys to be infected.
While many organizations are working to educate girls and women about AIDS and how to prevent the spread of HIV, there is an increasing focus on the crucial role young men and boys play in transforming the gender inequalities that drive the AIDS epidemic.
“We are beginning to realize that in our effort to focus on women and girls, we kind of took our eyes off the boys and men,” said founder and former Executive Director of the AIDS Support Organization in Uganda, Noerine Kaleeba, one of the participants in the podcast.
Vulnerability of women and girls
Participating in the podcast with Ms. Kaleeba was the Senior Technical Adviser on Gender Violence and Rights with the International Centre for Research on Women, Gary Barker, an expert in engaging men and boys to help achieve gender equality.
"Harmful societal ideas of masculinity and femininity are often behind girls’ vulnerability to HIV," Mr. Barker said, noting: "Boys are taught to think they’ve got some ownership over women."
Ms. Kaleeba pointed to pressure within families and communities to socialize men as aggressors and girls as submissive. “I always saw the requirements and expectations of us girls with regard to how submissive we had to be,” she said, recalling her own experiences growing up in Uganda, where HIV prevalence rates are higher among young women than young men.
Mr. Barker said social constructs of what it means to be a man, and how to live one's sexual life as a male, are harmful not only to women but also to men.
Ms. Kaleeba stressed that, although it is young women who are at greater risk, young men and boys must not be excluded in the effort to fight HIV. “It takes two to transmit an infection,” she said.
Both panellists agreed that effective prevention programmes must be community-driven.
“One of the key elements,” said Mr. Barker, “is having a group of men from the communities who ... come from the same background and who are coming out and saying, ‘Wait a minute, there are other ways to be men.’”
'Not too soon to start'
Ms. Kaleeba added that it is not enough to simply have projects for men and boys; these projects must be taken to scale and incorporated into existing programmes. In addition, the work of changing attitudes towards gender must begin when children are young.
"It is not too soon to start spreading new messages," Ms. Kaleeba said, speaking as a mother of four children and a foster mother of 14.
The podcast, released today, is entitled ‘Allies Against AIDS: The role of men and boys in transforming gender inequalities that drive the HIV epidemic’ and is moderated by Amy Costello of UN and UNICEF Radio in New York.
Moderator Amy Costello speaks with to founder and former Executive Director Noerine Kaleeba of the AIDS Support Organization in Uganda, and Senior Technical Adviser on Gender Violence and Rights Gary Barker of the International Centre for Research on Women.
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