Imagine the following scenario. You are a twelve-year-old boy living in Tanzania, the oldest of five children. Your mother and father have recently perished from AIDS, and your only living grandparent has recently become infected with HIV. For this reason, he is unable to work to earn money for his family. At just twelve years old, you are now in charge of caring for your four young siblings and your ill grandfather. They are hungry and sick, and grow more prone to infection with every passing day. They, as well as you, need shelter, food, clothing, and medicine. They desire education and a livelihood. How will you support them? Chances are, you will try your luck in the local industry, perhaps working in a mine or in a factory. While admittedly not wonderful environments in which to work, they are certainly safer than some professions.
As the family's primary breadwinner, you work long, grueling hours doing work deemed suitable for a young man. Life is hard, wrought with illness and poverty, but still, as a man, you have an advantage.
In a patriarchal society, such as exists in Tanzania, you automatically benefit simply due to your sex. You will likely experience little harassment in the workplace. You will be up early and you will come home late, but you will be able to earn money to feed your family without causing too much physical harm to yourself. Even if you fall on very hard times, you have the choice of joining a street gang. With the support of your close male friends, you can make a living off picking pockets and petty thievery. While clearly more dangerous than working in a mine (gang members are often robbed, beaten, or killed and left for dead), you are still fairly healthy and able-bodied enough to support your family.
[...] There are certainly many arguments favoring polygamy, from economic stability and reproductive variety to the continuation of blood. But many claim that these arguments value little, when it is sometimes clear that a man is simply tired with his first wife as a romantic pursuit and wants to justify having extramarital pursuits. Whatever the justification, polygamy is widely accepted by both husbands and wives alike. In fact, a wife will often seek out young women to be prospective new wives for her husband. [...]
[...] And, finally, patriarchal societies put pressure on women to remain silent in the bedroom and to never contest her husband on sexual matters. A female's high susceptibility to HIV/AIDS is a combination of the aforementioned factors. It is only with a deep understanding of the societal norms and cultural practices of these nations that we can begin to comprehend the very tragic and devastating reality that is AIDS. BIBLIOGRAPHY Burja, Janet. AIDS, Sexuality and Gender in Africa. New York: Routlege, 2000. [...]
[...] She, and millions of other faithful wives, has fallen victim to HIV through no fault of her own. She was simply born into a society that tolerates polygamy and therefore tolerates and even encourages extramarital relations. A third and final reason why women in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to become victims of HIV/AIDS is the “culture of silence” that is so prevalent in the patriarchal societies of Africa and indeed throughout the world. By “culture of silence” I mean to describe a male-dominated culture in which women, because they are considered second-class citizens, are encouraged to be passive and silent in the bedroom. [...]
[...] It is a scary thought, but it is a reality in much of sub-Saharan Africa, more so than in any other region of the world. It follows logically that, because the majority of prostitutes are female, females in these societies are more vulnerable to HIV infection. In sub-Saharan Africa of those living with AIDS are females between the ages of 15 and 49 (Class notes, Aug 31). Prostitution can be blamed for this statistic. But also to be blamed is the cultural acceptance of extramarital affairs due to the prevalence of polygamy. [...]
[...] You cannot get an education in hopes for a more lucrative career, because you have five little mouths to feed, including your own. While you could go to work in a factory, they are notoriously horrendous working conditions for young girls, who are subject to abuse, harassment, and on-the-job injuries. Not to mention that factory workers earn barely enough money to support themselves, let alone their families. If you are very lucky, perhaps you can get a job working as a maid in a wealthy household. But then who will be there to supervise your siblings during the day? [...]
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