In delivering her World AIDS Day address, Minister Liburd explained that between 1984 and now, 310 HIV cases have been reported to the Ministry of Health, the majority of which being persons within the 24-29 age group. She added however, that there has been a gradual “feminization of the epidemic with increasing numbers of young women becoming infected with the virus.”
Outlining the factors which contribute to female’s increased vulnerability and risk of being infected with HIV, Minister Liburd noted that some are socio-cultural while others are biological.
Addressing some of the socio-cultural causes, Liburd explained that relative to sex, childbearing and fidelity, women are expected to conform to a socially constructed mold.
“The reality of today’s woman is that she is expected to adhere to societal norms that perpetuate a culture of silence surrounding sex, that dictates that good women are expected to be ignorant about sex and passive in sexual relations. This makes it difficult for women to be informed as well as to be proactive in negotiation of safe sex. Women are also expected to practice fidelity in relationship with partners who subscribe to a different value system and who are encouraged to pursue multiple sexual relations concurrently, inadvertently placing their female partners at risk of infection.
“The ministry is also aware of the cultural and societal value that is placed on child-bearing and motherhood. This also presents a significant dilemma for women who cannot meet this ideal while using barrier methods or exploring non-penetrative sex as safer sexual options. Economic dependency also increases women’s vulnerability to HIV. Research has shown that economic vulnerability resulting from lower wages makes it more likely that women will exchange sex for money or for favours, less likely to succeed in negotiating protection and less likely to leave a relationship that they perceive to be risky.”
The Health Minister noted that males are also at an increased state of vulnerability owing to the “unequal power dynamics in gender relations.”
“The prevailing norms place expectations on men to be more knowledgeable and experienced with regard to sex. This makes it more likely that they will not admit their lack of knowledge about sex or protection and experiment with sex in unsafe ways at a young age to prove their manhood. Traditional views of masculinity that emphasize sexual domination over women as a characteristic of manhood also contribute to homophobia and stigmatization of men who have sex with men. The stigma and fear that result, force men who have sex with other men, to keep their behaviour a secret, thereby increasing their own risk as well as that of their partners both male and female.”
This year’s local HIV/AIDS campaign dubbed “Show me love. Love is honest, respectful and protective”, according to Minister Liburd, is geared at inspiring and promoting “dialogue to change cultural norms that are fuelling the epidemic”.
“The theme encourages us to reflect on what true love means in the context of a relationship, to view our current relationships through an HIV lens and to demand and reciprocate integrity, respect and protection in these interactions as a right and expectation of partners…
“It is our collective societal duty to remove barriers so that all persons can enjoy the fundamental rights and freedoms that are accorded to all human beings irrespective of gender, social standing or sexual orientation…,” Liburd expressed.