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Violence Against South African Women And The Spread Of Aids

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Introduction

Terrible, destructive synergy exists between the pervasiveness of HIV in South Africa and the prevalence of sexual crimes against the women there. Because of the cross-culturally observable, strong traditional beliefs about gender roles among South African men, women experience adversity in their efforts to avoid infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (Glick et al., 2000). Historically, the fight for human rights and the conflicts among political groups have given rise to civil unrest; now that a higher standard of personal freedom has been achieved, it is appropriate that gender equality should be cultivated as well. This paper is intended to show that a strange relationship exists between democratic freedom and gender inequality in South Africa (in the sense that the patriarchal society would view government intervention for the protection of women as an infringement on the personal freedom of the men who dominate them), and that prevention through education is the best and most efficient way for the U.N. to help Africa in the fight against AIDS.

The most prevalent form of violence against women, domestic violence, remains a relatively obscure and ignored issue in reproductive health research and training. In countries like South Africa, with a high prevalence of HIV, extremely high rates of rape and other forms of violence against women are documented, and they may play an important role in causing women's greater vulnerability to HIV infection. It is important to consider the rates of infection for Africa as a whole, because all the countries are affected, but particularly in South Africa, the rates are extremely high. Moreover, the prevalence of violence against women continues to grow.

Great Changes in Recent History

Great changes took place in Africa at the end of 1989 as Namibia, which had been occupied by South Africa, received its independence as the result of the first all-race national election. Communism was beginning to crumble, and protests raged on against apartheid. Nelson Mandela was released from prison a few months later in February of 1990, when President F.W. De Klerk agreed to allow for his freedom. In 1994, another democratic election established a government by the African National Congress and President Nelson Mandela (Carton, 2000). At the start of the 21st century, the great political progress that has been made falls in sharp contrast against the persistent epidemics of crime and AIDS. Indeed, crime and the spread of AIDS have been interrelated historically, because AIDS is contracted as a result of sexual violence. Women, in particular, have been victimized by the mechanism that adds immunodeficiency to insult and injury вЂ" women of all ages have contracted AIDS after being the victims of sexual attacks.

In order to remedy this situation, some members of the African public are insisting on harsher measures to be taken, including quarantining the HIV positive population, deporting African immigrants, and reinstating the death penalty. Carton (2000) writes, “Such throwbacks reflect one tenacious legacy of the old order: a deep anxiety that the enemy most to be feared lurks вЂ?within’ and must be banished. The emerging climate of intolerance bewilders those who only recently celebrated miraculously peaceful elections” (p. 116).

The need for strict enforcement of laws protecting women against violence is consistent with the newly achieved, higher standards of personal freedom in South Africa, but in such a patriarchal society, human rights for women are not as easy to provide. As a result, women cannot enjoy freedom and safety in South Africa; although it is true that personal freedom is valued in South Africa now, this freedom does not seem to apply to women. The gender-based double standard is so severe that, for the government to use strict measures to protect women against the crimes described in this report, it would seem to the citizens that freedom was being threatened rather than upheld. As recently as 2005, surveys show that South African culture is not ready to accept gender equality. “Both men and women endorsed gender attitudes that represent traditional, submissive, and passive roles of women; with nearly all men and women stating that women should obey their husbands [. . .]. One in three participants stated that women should not talk to men about sex” (Kalichman, 2005, p. 307).

Cultural Conditions that Lead to Violence against Women

Violence against women in South Africa has several origins. The first involves the history of the African people, which involves practices of dominance and superiority. Slavery has always been an atrocity that has plagued the people, giving some the feeling of superiority over others. This superiority has also involved male dominance over women. Constant power struggles have existed historically in South Africa, and this brings about violence against women. White minorities in South Africa ruled the country until 1993, and these white people indulged in feelings of superiority. Activists fought against the White domination and gained control of their country. According to BBC News, “The white governments had grand social engineering schemes which separated the races and involved the forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people. They poisoned and bombed opponents and encouraged trouble in neighboring countries.”

Domestic violence, rape, the trafficking of women and girls, forced prostitution; systematic rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy are all cruelties that are being committed against women in South Africa on a daily basis. According to Coomaraswamy's report on violence against women, “The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women” (1993) defines violence against women as “any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (“Overview”).

In South Africa, where women are treated as the property of men, domestic violence is not always understood to be morally wrong. The standards of equality that would protect women from such abuse are still a long way off, and, ironically, the new standards of personal freedom in South Africa seem to fall contrary to the notion of government intervention for the protection of women.

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