File picture: Edward Echwalu/Reuters
Cape Town - Gender inequalities and harmful gender norms are powerful drivers of the Aids epidemic and are a major obstacle to ending the disease.

This is according to UNAids which said these harmful gender norms and notions of masculinity may increase men’s vulnerability to HIV.

“For example, stereotypes of male ‘strength’ and invincibility can lead to men not using condoms and avoiding health services, such as HIV testing. It has been shown by research in 12 low- and middle-income countries that men with less equitable attitudes to women are less likely to be tested for HIV,” it said.

Clinical psychologist Funyanwa Pukwana said this was the result of underlying belief systems that men were strong and powerful beings, and that they should be seen as aggressive, forceful and powerful.

“With this definition to live up to, this idea can put men at risk because the theory is that they are indestructible. Things like seeking medical help goes against the definition and the understanding as it puts them in a powerful, upper position over the opposite sex. Accepted behaviour they should display includes taking risks, not showing emotion and being dominant,” she said.

Given Sigauqwe from Sonke Gender Justice said there was a growing realisation that men and boys were under-represented in HIV services while being over-represented among Aids-related deaths.

“The Global Fast-Track targets to end the Aids epidemic as a public health threat by 2030 will not be achieved unless men are better engaged in the HIV response. Changing ‘business as usual’ is therefore vital in order to reach men with HIV-related services while advancing gender transformative and responsive programmes,” he said.

Sigauqwe said this was critical for mens’ and boys’ health and for the sake of women and girls. If the HIV epidemic was to be successfully halted, urgent action was needed, he said.

“The first is challenging the harmful gender and social norms that discourage men from seeking health services and behaviours (such as violence and non-use of a condom) that increase the likelihood of HIV transmission to women and girls.

“Second is ensuring that health system policies, programmes, and service delivery adequately address the HIV-related needs of men in all their diversity,” Sigauqwe said.

According to UNAids, by 2020 at least 400000 more men need to take regular HIV tests and commence treatment, so that South Africa can achieve its target of providing treatment to 90% of all men and women who test positive.

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