Silent No More: Gender Norms and HIV/AIDS


The large banner stretched across busy
Langata Road near Nyayo football stadium in Nairobi, Kenya declares,
"We CAN End All Violence Against Women" as the traffic jam below
grinds on.  It signals the annual "16
Days of Activism" campaign

- from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence
Against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day) – against
gender violence.  This two-week global advocacy campaign for women’s
rights aptly envelopes World
AIDS Day
, for the issues of gender violence
and HIV/AIDS are inseparable
.

Here in Kenya, HIV/AIDS prevalence
has increased in both urban and rural areas in recent years and the
alarm bells have sounded.  There seems to be growing recognition
among policymakers and program managers that HIV and AIDS cannot be
viewed and acted upon as solely a clinical matter.  Deeply entrenched
social norms make women and girls highly vulnerable to HIV – the central
tenet of PAI’s newest documentary, The
Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage
,
which premiered in Nairobi last week.

The Silent Partner
touches on a handful of the socioeconomic factors that predispose women-particularly
married women-to HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.  The
interconnectedness of physical and sexual violence and HIV/AIDS is one
issue highlighted in the 12-minute film designed to spark debate and
conversation at the community and national level among policymakers,
civil society and the media.

    "…When you are physically
    assaulting somebody, either through punches or hitting them or raping
    them, then during that time there is no prevention."Professor Alloys S.S. Orago, Director General,
    Kenya National AIDS Control Commission,
    from "The Silent Partner." 

During the screening
here in Nairobi
, the 170-member
audience reacted passionately and a vigorous discussion ensued – for
nearly two hours.  Just the response we hoped The Silent Partner
would induce.  One male audience member asked whether sex in marriage
was a right, a privilege or a choice.  Another participant pleaded
for more sustained programming for boys and men aimed at changing their
attitudes and beliefs toward women and marriage. Yet another questioned
whether the emphasis on ABC (Abstinence — Be faithful – Condoms)
for the past several years had distracted governments and nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) from tackling the social issues underlying their
HIV/AIDS epidemics, and expressed hope that U.S. HIV/AIDS assistance
under an Obama Administration would look and feel very different.

Under the guidance of African NGO partners,
the objective of The Silent Partner
is to inform and provoke conversations across the continent. Through
individual stories and expert accounts, the film highlights the broader
socioeconomic factors driving HIV and AIDS, providing an entry point
for activists to explore the gender and societal norms that put women
and couples at risk.  May the anti-violence banner over Langata
Road, The Silent Partner, and other advocacy messages and tools
help bring about the societal change that will benefit everyone.

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