Victim Narratives Pushing Women into the Margins: Sex, Pleasure and AIDS

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by RITU MAHENDRU, 01.12.2012 | London

Every year on 1 December World AIDS Day (WAD) is observed. The day is marked to demonstrate international solidarity against injustice and inequality and show commitment towards reduction of the HIV infection and increase awareness about HIV/AIDS.

HIV and AIDS continue to be one of the most challenging issues in the developmental agenda.

In the initial days of the epidemic, AIDS was seen as a disease mainly affecting gay men. However, today, as we understand HIV affect all population groups regardless of individual’s gender, age, class, caste, ethnic and geographical backgrounds.

While HIV is mainly concentrated in certain geographical areas and amongst large number of key affected populations, HIV/AIDS is one of the examples, which has evidently demonstrated the structural disadvantage of women both at institutional and personal levels.

HIV/AIDS is one of the examples, which has evidently demonstrated the structural disadvantage of women both at institutional and personal levels.

Many international bodies such as the UN, World Bank and DFID to name a few now have gender related policies and funding strands mainly focusing on removing gender inequalities through ‘gender mainstreaming’ and ‘women empowerment’; the overuse of these terms has lost its purpose and perspective. Moreover, the term Gender has only become an add-on for many policy and research documents that now drive the development agenda.

Despite all the international initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals and International Conference on Population Development to achieve gender equality, there has always been confusion about the aims and objectives of empowerment. It is often assumed that women’s sense of empowerment only comes from her ability to negotiate safe sex with their sexual partners.

This approach to empowerment leads to harmful socialisation of adolescent girls at many levels who come to learn about themselves as subjects of negative gender distinctions as compared to boys.

The discriminatory socialisation of women is so embedded in the everyday operations of our cultures that women grow up understanding and experiencing their bodies as hindrance rather than opportunity preventing themselves from engaging in authoritative and agentic embodied experiences and accounts, which also has its implications with Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

Several researchers assert that the positive attributes young men associate with their first sexual encounter, and the status this gives them, is not often reported by girls. The conceptual developments around gender, sexuality and HIV have often remained quite desultory and disappointing.

To strike the gender balance between women and men, it is vital to move away from the female narratives of victimhood that is so easy to fall back on.

We need to explicitly engage ourselves in the feminist debates around female sexuality and political power of pleasures by emphasising on other complex intersections of social structures that give rise to inequalities in the HIV/AIDS discourses.

We need to explicitly engage ourselves in the feminist debates around female sexuality and political power of pleasures by emphasising on other complex intersections of social structures that give rise to inequalities in the HIV/AIDS discourses.

While the policy makers, researchers and academics have shied away from this model of empowerment, it is never too late to peacefully prevent this cynicism.

Ritu tweets as @ritumahendru

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Ritu Mahendru

Dr. Ritu Mahendru is the founder and chair of South Asian Sexual Health eForum based in the UK. She is a public health specialist and sociologist. Ritu has over 12 years experience of working on development issues such as social, health and gender issues with South Asian communities in the UK, and several South Asian and African countries. She has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Kent. Her research interests lie in conflict prevention, stabilisation, peace building, local governance, health policy, gender, sexual health, social exclusion and human rights. Ritu has authored a book titled: Gender, Risk and AIDS: Young People’s Perceptions of Gender, Risk and AIDS: A Comparative Analysis of India and the UK; and edited a book: Population Trends and Policy Options in Selected Developing Countries.
Dr. Ritu Mahendru: 
ritu.mahendru@sash-uk.org,

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