Essentialism, equality, and empowerment: concepts of gender and schooling in the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

Unterhalter E; Boler T; Aikman S
In: Gender equality, HIV, and AIDS. A challenge for the education sector edited by Sheila Aikman, Elaine Unterhalter, and Tania Boler. Oxford, United Kingdom, Oxfam GB, 2008. 11-32.

The HIV and AIDS epidemic is often described as 'a feminised epidemic'. The term refers to some features of the epidemiology, in that in many countries which are experiencing generalised epidemics,1 the numbers of women infected are significantly higher than the numbers of men. During the early years of an HIV epidemic, the virus is contained within certain key populations such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, and injecting drug users. This type of epidemic is known as a concentrated epidemic and is typical of the epidemics found in most parts of Europe,North America, South America, and Asia. In these regions, the greatest burden of infection is among men.However, in sub-Saharan African countries experiencing generalised HIV epidemics,women now make up 57 per cent of infections, with some 17 million women living with HIV at the end of 2003 (UNAIDS 2007).The situation is particularly acute among young people in Southern Africa, with studies suggesting that young women are two to seven times more likely to be infected with HIV than young men are. The term 'feminised epidemic' is also sometimes used as shorthand to signal that unequal gender relations are associated with HIV infections, as either cause or consequence.The reports of UNESCO, the UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Education, and the Global Campaign for Education urge us with generalisations to 'recognise that gender issues are key to the problem of HIV and AIDS'. What these reports point to is that many women cannot act to protect themselves by requesting men to use condoms or requiring men to reduce their numbers of sexual partners. Such forms of female vulnerability are seen as a manifestation of the gender issues at the heart of the epidemic. In addition, the term 'gender issues' often signals that many women who are infected or affected take on extra burdens of care within households, without shifts in gender relations within the family, community, or society (Voluntary Service Overseas 2006). However, the term 'feminised epidemic', despite its usefulness in directing attention to some aspects of women's needs, is also immensely problematic, in that it associates the actions of women, not men,with the epidemic, and suggests that all women are similarly vulnerable, ill,or burdened with responsibility.While in many countries these terms apply to a large number of women, it is important to scrutinise these over-generalised and one-dimensional characterisations. In this chapter we place the 'feminised epidemic' within the context of a broader examination of concepts of women and gender associated with research and policy on education, HIV, and AIDS.But before turning to an exploration of these important distinctions, some background on the education-sector response to the epidemic is necessary. (excerpt)

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