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South African civil society groups are seething after a Zimbabwean politician’s comment that women should deliberately make themselves look unattractive by shaving their heads and not bathing if the country was to curb the spread of HIV/Aids.
They believe that Morgan Femai’s views are detrimental to the fight against the scourge, especially in a country where 14 percent of the population is reportedly infected with the virus.
Femai, a Movement for Democratic Change senator for Chikomo, situated south of the capital Harare, told a parliamentary HIV awareness workshop last week that his government should impose laws to compel women to undertake the drastic measures as men were finding it hard to resist attractive women.
“What I propose is that the government should come up with a law that compels women to have their heads clean-shaven, like what the Apostolic sects do,” ZimEye quoted him as having said.
“They should also not bath because that is what has caused all these problems.”
His views have gone viral on the internet and have been condemned worldwide.
“I cannot believe that someone will say such a thing in 2012. It is utterly disgusting. He is taking us back 50 years,” said Vuyiseka Dubula, spokeswoman for the Treatment Action Campaign, an HIV rights group.
“His views are from a patriarchal society that do not see women as equal, but as subjects. It was comments such as these that were used to justify rape,” she said.
“It is comments like these that lay the blame for the spread of Aids on women, and it is wrong. Everyone has a responsibility to prevent the spread of Aids, and such comments do not help.”
Femai, a member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, also reportedly told the workshop: “Women have got more moisture in their organs as compared to men, so there is need to research on how to deal with that moisture because it is conducive for bacteria breeding. There should be a way to suck out that moisture.”
Dubula said that Femai’s comments could prevent women in that country testing themselves for the disease, which was key to raising awareness for people to know their status and to get life-saving treatment.
“It is such views that are taking us backwards,” she said. “We have made tremendous strides in the fight against HIV and this does more harm than good.”
Kubi Rama, chief operating officer of advocacy group Gender Links, said Femai’s comments were astonishing.
“These comments feed into so many gender stereotypes,” she said. “First, it places the responsibility for men’s sexual behaviour with women. This is unacceptable and actually quite insulting to men.
“Can men not think and make decisions for themselves? Once again, women are being demonised for their physical form.”
Rama called into question Femai’s fitness to hold office, adding that people should be vigilant of whom they put in high-profile positions.
“Politicians underestimate the power of their voices and need to use them responsibly,” she said.