Research shows that teenagers tend to be more socially conservative with respect to gender roles than older men and women. This undoubtedly influences the high HIV incidence among teenage girls. Addressing their vulnerability requires working through the issues surrounding gender, and will not be achieved through attempts to change behaviour in isolation from the broader social and relational context. Men mostly control sexual encounters, and it is tempting to think that programmes targeting them and their self-interest will be enough but, apart from the obvious exclusion of women, this is short sighted.
Understandings from gender theory indicate that the impact on men will be limited by ideals of masculinity emphasising the demonstration of their manliness, with related sexually risky practices, unless interventions set out to change these. Evidence from the Stepping Stones programme evaluation shows that men can change in response to interventions that address gender issues, even among impoverished, relatively disempowered rural men, and that the incremental changes that made men a little less violent and more caring translated into a lower risk of genital herpes infections .
Discussion of gender and HIV is incomplete without reflecting on the risks for women in sex work and their clients. Whilst there has been a dominant focus on protecting individual sex acts, the broader understanding of how young women come to be in sex work and the multiple risks therein are often ignored.
South Africa: Gender equality and morality as citizenship
There is a particularly well established trajectory between early sexual abuse and engagement in sex work, which makes the practice inherently deeply interwoven with gender equity issues. Furthermore women in sex work are perceived as subordinated by both their gender and by stigmatised sexual practices, rendering them particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence from their male clients, partners and others, such as the police. The gender inequity, violence and sex work nexus is further explicated by research that shows that men who engaged sexually with female sex workers, such as those who have transactional sex and relationships, are particularly prone to violence, criminal engagement and sexual risk taking .
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In there is no lack of scientific evidence supporting the need for programming on gender equity and prevention of violence, and its critical role in reducing HIV risk. Developing means to effectively translate the evidence into programming is essential. Core elements involve a recognition that efforts need to be directed at both men and women, and that for adolescents, HIV prevention and reproductive health promotion need to be co-programmed with gender equity as they have common roots. Recent reviews of what works in the prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence, published by the WHO, show that some of the interventions that have been evaluated have proven to be effective in violence prevention and can form key parts of HIV prevention programming.
Of course further research into interventions is needed, but the central challenge is to develop mechanisms for programming what is now known to work whilst further developing the evidence base. Science The Lancet Child Abuse and Neglect Independent migrant children, humanitarian work and statecraft: Mapping the connections in South Africa. Routledge: New York.
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