Story by; Frederick H
At different fronts in all walks of life, the month of December comes with a lot of reminders, reflections and highlights. So often, we mark days set aside for festive purposes and forget the lifelong significance of its first day – 1st December. Look around you, reflect on what is going on around you and determine what is more important to do, say and rely on going forward. World AIDS day keeps coming to remind us of how much more we can do, what we are meant to do and not doing, and the significance of living in a manner that reduces the risks and chances of contracting HIV, therefore AIDS and its dire consequences. Even though the world has collectively put together efforts that have significantly reduced HIV amongst youths, statistics still show that girls and young women still account for the majority of new infections globally. In some parts of the world, most especially southern and eastern Africa, HIV prevalence amongst girls and young women is as much as Seven times higher than it is amongst boys and young men, as reported by UNAID. These statistics do not exist out of nothing, there are factors that have significantly worked to keep them around over time. Critical thinking will enlighten us this way; HIV/AIDS exploits vulnerabilities in both women and men, the way we choose to associate, the social differences and power we yield based on the economic muscle.
Significantly, we live in societies that strive to develop, prosper and grow at all fronts of their existence. Time has practically showed us that all this is only possible if every member of the society regardless of gender is availed with opportunities to explore. Especially through empowerment regardless of traditions, social and economic chains. Michelle Obama once famously said, ‘When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.’ Education is broad in the sense that, care must be given to him or her who is receiving that education, so that she is in the right state of health to actually receive and utilize that education effectively. Secondly, not everyone in the societies we live in has the potential to attain the kind of education he or she wishes to, but those in the position to help her attain that education should go ahead and avail the help they choose to render. With this background, we wish to share with all our partners our role in empowering the girl child, through education, help and care. Here we keep in mind the damage caused by the prevalence of HIV/AIDS amongst girls and young women. Lastly the vulnerabilities in our societies that have perpetrated the statistics that have kept the infections higher.
My first day at one AIDS Support Centre in Uganda as a volunteer, shook my nerves to the core. Here I met one man, whose name I will withhold. He had undergone rehabilitation, doctors and counselors had worked tirelessly overtime, considering word going around the center. This patient was being prepared to feature in an AIDS awareness documentary. The more I dug deeper, there more I realized how deep and significant the steps the center was taking were. He had been tasked to write down the names of all school going girls he had had unprotected sex with. For this, the center became busier than a beehive. Several girls whose names were noted were brought in for tests, and I am at pain to tell you, that three out of every batch of six brought in tested positive. The tragic story started when he found out he was HIV positive. He started hating his life and eventually developed hell-like hatred towards all that was female. Since he claimed, women were responsible for his positive HIV status. He thereafter choose the wrong way forward, going on a revenge mission of infecting every young girl he could get his hands on. All he wanted was to destroy the future of any female he got his hands on. He wrongly alleged, that his future had been destroyed by a young woman – he targeted girls and young women. His unthinkable mission had gone on for three years. He used money and a lot other pleasantries to lure girls into his trap. Seeing the damage all this had caused led to wonder what was surely going on in the rest of the world. I watched from one day to another as girls who tested positive broke down in tears, some had just been picked from school. He was one man utilizing the vulnerabilities of our society. He chose to use his dominance as a bitter, rich male to prey on young girls. This destroyed the core of many of these girls.
Prince Wako foundation joined the rest of the world to Mark World AIDS day. This did not stop with the 1st of December. Our team has created awareness campaigns to exhibit how HIV affects women and adolescent girls because of vulnerabilities created by unequal cultural, social and economic statuses. We appreciate the fact that there is a lot more work to be done, and in terms of this cause, we opt to create awareness each and every day in our different projects, on our different media platforms and in liaison with our different partners, volunteers and beneficiaries. We look forward to societies where HIV infections, most especially amongst the adolescent girls are reduced to the lowest of levels. This we are actively doing through counselling and supporting the vulnerable girls at school. By finding ways of having their school dues paid. In our counselling sessions we have learnt more about customs like early and forced marriages that have exposed girls to the risk HIV infections. This has formed the foundation of our empowerment. If we empower girls through education, they will live a life where they can make choices based on the right knowledge and information. Secondly, availing the necessary care is a way of nurturing which bridges the gap between our hearts, minds and souls. We have availed ourselves to deliver help, whenever we are called upon, our partners in different parts of the world have rendered the necessary help, but all this is just the beginning. A lot more can be done.
In our different communities, culture backgrounds treat us differently. Some propagate the notion of gender inequality and others thrive on the inferiority of females in a society. This has been exploited in a manner that has increased the HIV infections. In some traditional families in the Sub Saharan region, once a man’s wife dies, the family of the deceased female gives him a younger girl from their family to marry. Note, that all this is done without regard for any possible HIV infections on the part of the surviving man. All they care about, is to maintain the bond created by the marriage. Such complexities have exposed many young brides to a higher risk of contracting HIV. In other instances, polygamy has been kept alive through traditional marriages. In turn, these traditional marriages are known to support early marriages. In instances where child brides are forced into marriage, they get no opportunity of ascertaining if the men they are getting married to is HIV positive or negative. In this manner many have fallen into polygamous marriages chained by the AIDS scourge. So both culture and social settings have bred circumstances that have placed young girls in a more vulnerable position and thus a higher risk of contracting HIV.
Poverty, materialism and financial dependence. The economic status of any individual contributes greatly to the way one acts and reacts towards situations. If women and young girls are educated, they will not only have the relevant knowledge but also skills that will avail them with employment opportunities to take care of themselves. If they are single mothers, they will be able to take care of their children in a more development oriented manner. This transforms into individuals who avoid traps of those that lure them into having unprotected sex for money. I have seen scenarios where girls have been forced to marry for the love of money, not knowing the partner is HIV positive. Scenarios where young women at Universities have been lured into traps of having unprotected sex in exchange of luxuries, exposing themselves to the risk of contracting HIV. All these scenarios are all around us, we walk past them every other day but we need to persistently deal with the root causes.
How about closing the vulnerable areas? Discard cultural and social customs/lifestyles that expose the young to the risk of contracting HIV. Secondly empower the young through education and skilling. Care for those who have fallen victims without any kind of discrimination. Here we will be able to have a self-sustaining generation that is not infiltrated by those that seek to use money and materialism to lure them into risky behavior. There is a path that we ought to take, and we must take it. Our world has given us opportunities that we have to utilize. Let us educate and impart the right knowledge in the young generation regardless of the background. In one way or another, all that we do individually and collectively will eventually grow nations.