Battling Gender Violence and HIV in South Africa

Fellows Fall 2012

By Kimberly Burge

January 09, 2013

Also published by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

With the largest number of people living with HIV in the world, South Africa remains at the forefront of the battle against AIDS. But some South Africans are now taking innovative—and crucial—approaches to the fight.

I recently wrote about Sonke Gender Justice Network for The Atlantic online. They work to involve men in the fight to bring down South Africa's horrifically high levels of violence against women. The links between HIV transmission and gender-based violence are well-documented. In fact, violence against women is one of the root causes of the rapid spread of HIV in South Africa according to the Sonke Network.

In the last decade, men have also been recognized as a priority for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV programs. Along with their role in HIV transmission and prevention, men also influence their partners' testing and treatment decisions. In fact, women who thought their husbands would approve of HIV testing were almost six times more likely to be tested than those who said their husbands wouldn't approve.

The Sonke project, MenCare, promotes men's greater involvement in caregiving and domestic work, and as involved fathers and partners in maternal and child health. This worldwide program, a partnership with Promundo, has been recognized by the World Health Organization in a report on male involvement in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. As the WHO notes, “Caregiving provides a 'positive hook' for engaging men in gender equality and reducing violence against women and children. It provides an alternative identity for men that can serve to galvanize men’s participation in gender equality in ways that have yet to be fully realized.

The report also observes that much has been made of the “intergenerational transmission” of violence, but not of caregiving and gender equality. In other words, it's time to see what happens when children—especially boys—see their fathers as examples of caregivers and grow up to become fathers themselves.  That shift would go far toward protecting women and children in all sorts of ways.

Kimberly Burge is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist, a contributing writer for Sojourners, and a former Fulbright Scholar to South Africa. She is author of a forthcoming book about girls growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. She reported from South Africa on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP).