In the lead-up to next week’s meeting on HIV/AIDS at the UN, a recent AFP article, “Thrown out of home, Nigerian women find solace in sisterhood,” is an apt reminder of the special challenges that so many women face in protecting themselves from infection when they have so little decision-making power in their relationships and in their lives. The article narrates the plight of 70 female divorcees gathered at a vocational training and support class in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, where Shari’ah Islamic law has been in place since 2000, and where girls often have little say in when and whom they marry.
Small detail: most of these divorcees are girls between the ages of 15 and 20, and most were married to much older men, many of whom had themselves been married previously. Add to this the social acceptability of men being the exclusive sexual decision-makers in marriage (not to mention entering the marriage with far more sexual experience than their young brides), and the expectation that women will prove their matrimonial fitness by producing children as soon as possible—making abstinence, fidelity, and condom use easier said than done.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see how HIV/AIDS fits into this picture. It’s a far cry from the story released by Knight Ridder earlier this week: “After 25 years, scientists believe growth of HIV/AIDS is slowing.” Infection rates among women are rising in every region of the world. And in the U.S., African-American and Latina women face exponentially higher rates of HIV/AIDS than their white counterparts.
Slowing for whom, one might ask?