LEFT HOOK: Apr 05, AU Edition

lefthook.jpgLAURA WILSON
Respect for women will go a long way to preventing AIDS
There are said to be between five and six million AIDS cases in India, which makes it amongst the Asian countries worst hit by the virus. Whilst still far from Zimbabwe’s infection rate of 40%, countries like
Cambodia are getting up around 10% – an alarming figure for a country which only ten years ago had no known AIDS deaths. According to Time magazine, 6,000 people contract AIDS worldwide per day.
We all know that the disease is spread through prostitution and intravenous drug use, which is certainly true. But one could also say it is spread by husbands who visit prostitutes, then carry the virus home to their wives, who then get pregnant and pass it on to their next child.
An unknown, but probably very high, percentage of Asia’s prostitutes are stolen away from their homes and taken to a city or another country and enslaved into prostitution. These disappearances are common in Nepal, where I currently live. Girls frequently disappear from villages. They are seldom traced because villagers know these girls are irretrievable, and even if they are retrieved, they are outcasts in their former home because of their defilement.
Less talked about is the reality that many of these girls are not stolen, but sold by their families into the sex trade for a small amount of cash and to relieve the burden of another mouth to feed.
I have not met any parents who have disposed of their daughter in this way, and while it sounds barbaric, it first has to be understood that there are different forms of morality in operation here. To illustrate, I use the example of Nepalese culture’s response to an incidence of rape. When a rapist is caught he is “punished” by being forced to marry his victim.

I read the Himalayan Times every morning and frequently learn of such marriages, and yet have never seen the question raised of whether the victim is keen to marry her violator.
The moral concept seems to be that a man cannot have his bit of fun with a woman without taking on the responsibility of her whole life by becoming her husband. The moral concept for the woman concerned is a little harder to phrase, but it seems as if the penalty for being a victim is the same as for being a perpetrator.
I have some good Nepali friends who run a trekking agency with whom I discuss these things.
I expressed my wishful idea that Nepal seemed different to other Asian countries, more innocent somehow. They took me across the road to what I thought was a restaurant. In fact the restaurant was a front for a brothel in which girls around 12 to 14 years old sat waiting in ‘booths’, partitioned only by a curtain.
I was then taken for a walk through central Kathmandu and shown numerous such ‘restaurants’. It seemed every second one was a brothel. The girls were so young, I asked what kind of men would seek sex with such children. My friends answered with a sweeping gesture to indicate the entire street scene in front of me.
At about the same time I met a man from South Africa who for twenty years owned an auto parts shop which hired mostly black employees. Several times over the years a woman would show up at his door and plead for employment. Being generous-hearted he would create a job for them, but to his horror every time there was a woman employee on the premises she would be group-raped by his male staff. I immediately wanted to know if he fired all his staff and called the police. He laughed at my stupidity, saying that the men’s replacements would probably be worse, and that you would be hard pressed to find a black female in Africa who hasn’t been raped. These men saw sexual access to a woman as their right. The women didn’t want this to happen, but expected that it would.
So we are told AIDS spreads through prostitutes. Captive,
enslaved, child prostitutes, often hooked on the drugs that are also forced upon them. Various AIDS agencies and international aid organisations are intently targeting the Asian AIDS outbreak, and their primary tactic thus far is to distribute free condoms and syringes.
This is as clever an idea to my mind as is distributing free cigarette filters to children we wish to discourage from smoking. I can see the motive of the handouts is to minimize deaths and stem the spread of the disease, but it is a double-edged sword which also encourages the very activities that generate the epidemic.
At the root of this kind of approach lies the demoralisation of science. Because AIDS is transmitted through the blood, we treat it scientifically by protecting the organs and instruments that infiltrate body tissue. Why do I see this as being almost completely pointless? Because it is modern medicine yet again treating the symptom, as if the whole concept of a ‘cause’ is outside its realm, in the Darwinian realms of randomness, of nature playing its endless game of chance.
When plagues, typhoid and leprosy were our major health threats a few hundred years ago, we learnt the hard way about dealing with our waste products, the incubus for disease. It forced us to clean up our acts, to desist from throwing our toilet waste into the street below. These diseases are now largely erased from developed nations and new foes face us, forcing us to take a look at other disease-causing aspects of our behaviour.
Medical science has spent a century trying to convince us diseases are essentially random when it comes to whom they find as a host. Once, so frustrated at contracting two, three or four bouts of serious influenza every winter, I approached my doctor and asked what I could do to improve my condition so that I was not so susceptible. I was told the ‘flu virus is random, that one cannot protect oneself. A second opinion from another doctor confirmed this professional view.
Ten years later, I have had neither cold nor ‘flu for at least five years, due to spending several years slowly learning about my body, my diet and my immune system.
I could cite countless examples of what we in the West would call depraved sexuality on continents like Asia and Africa. Is calling such things depraved a judgement? Do I have a right to claim that making a woman marry her rapist is depraved, or the selling of a daughter into prostitution? Maybe not, but I certainly have a right to blame the wildfire spread of AIDS on such practices.
People need to change, as we once needed to change our behaviour in the Middle Ages to stop the spread of disease. Giving long-distance truck drivers free condoms is not going to stop the spread of AIDS. These truck drivers are free to use as many roadside women as they wish, but they are also free to die of AIDS. Apparently a commonly held belief in Africa is that males do not contract, carry nor infect with AIDS: it is a woman’s disease. Western medical missionaries call this kind of belief ignorance, easily rectified by education. But myths such as these are not founded in mere ignorance, but societal malice. Education of the mind will not fix something that is a problem of the heart.
Such beliefs and their concomitant behaviours are at the root of the AIDS epidemic. Until women are honoured, loved and respected, and men and women are raised with a healthy approach to sexuality
in great continents like Asia and Africa, AIDS will have its way, and no amount of medical intervention will stem the tide. AIDS is about attitude.