As the world marks the World AIDS Day today, Paul Obi writes on gender and vulnerability as two focal points that require more urgent attention.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate World AIDS Day, experts believed that it is an urgent need to explore the gender and vulnerability aspects in the spread of the HIV/AIDS. According to studies, there appeared to some links between gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV infection with violence as a risk factor for HIV as well as a consequence of being HIV positive. In a recent report, nearly about 35.6 per cent of women across the world have experienced either non-partner sexual violence or physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or both. The report indicated that “gender-based violence and gender inequality are increasingly cited as important determinants of women’s HIV risk.”
According to the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), women and girls abducted by the insurgency groups are forced to marry, convert and endure physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and rape in captivity. More than 500 Nigerian women and girls have been abducted since 2009. NACA Acting Director General, Kayode Ogundemi opined that “forced sex increases the risk of HIV transmission among women due to lacerations. Women dreading or experiencing violence, are less likely to negotiate for safe sex, go for HIV testing, share their HIV status and access treatment.”
Recent findings by NACA also showed that women (45 per cent) who ever experience physical or sexual violence did not seek help from any source or tell anyone about the violence. Current gender roles also compromise men’s health by encouraging them to equate risky sexual behaviors and violence with being manly.
The report observed that “various in Nigeria identified the following as factors that make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV. Most women and girls lack power to control key aspects of their lives including marriage and sexual negotiation in and out of marriage. Most women and girls also lack social and economic power to control the impact of the epidemic in their lives. About 70 per cent of Nigerian women live below the $1 a day threshold emphasizing the feminization of poverty in Nigeria.”
More so, “women and girls lack access to Societal Factors Predisposing Men, Women, Boys and Girls to HIV. Studies have shown that in Nigeria, masculinity norms impress on men to have more than one sexual partner and it is common for older men to have unprotected sexual relationship with much younger women. These factors contribute to: – Three times higher infection rate among young women (15 – 24 years) compared to young men of the same age. – One-third (33 per cent) of married women in Nigeria are in polygamous relationships. – 16 per dent of girls initiate sexual activity before age 15.
“The percentage of women and men aged 15 – 49 with multiple sexual partners is higher amongst males than females, with more than 30 pr cent men ages 20 to 24 reporting multiple sex partners in 2012. Socialization of men may mean that they will not seek HIV services due to fear of stigma and discrimination, losing their jobs and not being able to play their bread-winning role.
Again, according to NACA officials with knowledge the reports and indexes, women are likely to face barriers in accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services due to their limited decision making power, lack of control over financial resources. Added to that, restricted mobility and child-care responsibilities also compound the situation for women. This, they argued tend to tilt more burden to women and girls, who are often the primary caregivers across homes and families, even among those living with and affected by HIV.
NACA Director of Programmes Coordination, Dr Akudo Ikpeazu in a forward on the report on Legal and Human Rights Barriers in HIV/AIDS Response in Nigeria’s stipulated that “the need for a national plan of action on the removal of legal and human rights barriers to the national response cannot be over-emphasised.” Ikpeazu maintained that “with higher rates of infection among specific groups within the general population, there can be no better time for a focused plan of action.”
The report with a time frame stretching from 2017 to 2022 pays attention to “HIV prevalence rates among key populations range from 19.4 per cent among Brothel Based Female Sex Workers (BBFSW), 8.6 per cent among Non-Brothel Based Female Sex Workers (NBBFSW), 22.9 per cent among MSM to 3.4 per cent among PWIDs (IBBSS, 2014), compared to the national prevalence rate, which is 3.4 per cent among general population (NARHS Plus, 2012). Efforts at halting transmission of HIV infection within the general population may be unachievable if current trends of infection among key populations are not reversed,” Ikpeazu added.
The NACA Director added that “the HIV and AIDS Legal Environment Assessment is the basis for the development of this Plan of Action.” Ikpeazu further contended that “the assessment was aimed at identifying and clarifying key legal and policy issues that pose as barrier to access to services for vulnerable groups. It aimed at assessing the implications of existing laws and policies for individuals and organisations that respond to HIV/AIDS,” Ikpeazu submitted.
Consequently, as Nigeria continue to grapple with the task of curtailing the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the dominant challenge of gender parity need to be given a special place also. Beyond public awareness on such subject, there is cogent need to work towards preventing violent imposed transmission of the virus, with women at the receiving end. The best strategic to achieve the above goal has to be through legislation and law enforcement. That is where Nigeria should focus more. If the country really wants to work towards stopping further spread of HIV/AIDS by 2030, then, the challenges of gender violence and vulnerable groups would have to be at the front burner.