Sunday, February 13, 2011

Exploring the Relationship Between Gender Roles and HIV/AIDS

Thursday evening, our second homestay parents arrived at the CGE house to retrieve their student. Everyone was excited to meet his or her families after the success of the first home stay. People were a bit more nervous this time because we would be staying alone with the families for ten days while attending classes. Many of us were also warned that we might not have a lot of privacy at our homes, which is a little unnerving for American college students. After just the first weekend though, many of us were starting to adapt to our new family structures and dynamics.

(View from bedroom window at homestay)

In many (but not all) of our host families, women and children (especially young females) seem to bear the weight of the domestic duties within the household. This is demonstrated in my family (Christine) when my mom serves dinner and is solely responsible for the food preparation and clean up. Further, on Saturday morning all the females in the family woke up early to clean and do laundry. Though this was not the case in each family, we all value the opportunity to observe how gender roles carry significance with our Namibian families. (Homestay in Dorado Park)

Our internships also started this week. My (Kristen) internship has to deal with HIV/AIDS, so I have been reading about the issues regarding HIV and AIDS in Namibia in order to gain background knowledge for my work. One of the articles that really stood out to me explored how the patriarchal culture has influenced the AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa. This culture in which men have a significant amount of power over women has created situations where some women are not empowered to say no to sex or to insist that their partner use a condom, which has resulted in higher infection rates in women. Reading about this aspect of the epidemic is really difficult for me because it seems like a cultural shift is necessary in order to address the AIDS issue. But how is it possible to cause a cultural shift? Is it even feasible for me to make any sort of impact through my internship? This is hard for me to process, and it is an issue I am really struggling with in my internship because I do not know what I can do or even if I can help in any way.

At the Peace Centre, my (Joel’s) internship deals head on with these issues in a gender awareness program. This is where gender is defined and the issues of domestic violence are brought into discussion with teens in high school classrooms. The purpose of the program is to bring awareness to the stereotypes and stigmas that have dangerous effects on various people (particularly women) in Namibian society. One issue raised is that many teenagers have multiple partners, which contributes to the system of gender imbalance. This ultimately leads to an increase in HIV. The hope is that a paradigm shift can be seen in the students’ outlook on gender, which is empowering to both men and women.

The issues of gender have come from a variety of different sources and perspectives during our internships and homestays. We will continue to struggle with this complex relationship between gender and HIV during our semester in Namibia.

(Athletics Day with Host Family)

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