Zille attacked on unsafe sex call
Premier Helen Zille’s proposal to have the practice of unsafe sex with multiple partners by men criminalised is misguided and will not solve help address the ongoing HIV transmission, Aids activist organisations have said.
Addressing a wellness summit held by the provincial Department of Health this week, Zille said while many believed South Africa had emerged from the era of Aids denialism under Thabo Mbeki, it had in fact sunk even deeper into denialism.
“President Zuma’s lifestyle epitomises the Aids Superhighway: inter-generational sex with multiple concurrent partners. Because it was politically incorrect to challenge this, the country remained in denial about the root of the problem.
“Which part of ‘Use a Condom’ do some men not seem to understand?” Men who persisted in this kind of behaviour and put women at risk should be charged with attempted murder, Zille said.
Dean Peacock of Sonke Gender Justice Network has labelled Zille’s call as not only bad politicking, but a slap in the face of those living with the virus because it portrayed them as irresponsible.
Peacock said criminalising unsafe sex would not be in anyone’s interest and was counter-productive to the efforts of getting people tested for HIV.
“The proposal is mean-spirited and will deter people from getting tested. The Premier shows a problematic attitude and this is truly insulting to those living with the virus,” he said. Peacock said the country didn’t need criminalisation of unsafe sex, instead political leaders should look at ways that would address inequality and empower women economically. The country also needed to address its shortcomings, like limited access to condoms.
“The reality about this country is that there are poor people who can’t afford to buy their own condoms. The Department of Health has to ensure that condoms are freely available before we even start about criminalising unprotected sex,” he said.
Peacock said research suggested that where there were high levels of inequality there were likely to be health and other social problems. This was not unique to South Africa. “What we need from political leaders such as Premier Zille are responsible statements that will see this country moving forward where women can be empowered to negotiate safe sex and where men will not be afraid to test for HIV due to fear of being charged with attempted murder,” he said.
Zille told delegates attending the summit that it was time the government shifted from its exclusive focus from treating diseases to preventing them.
Zille said HIV treatment alone cost the provincial government close to R2 billion a year and that shifting the emphasis would free resources for unpreventable conditions which were often underfunded because of the “burden of diseases”.
“The Western Cape will continue to provide the most comprehensive HIV/Aids treatment in the country. But it will also ask the necessary questions and make appropriate demands for behaviour change,” she said.
Aids Legal Network director Johanna Kehler said criminalisation of HIV infection would be an “absolute misguided approach” to address HIV risk.
She said the risk of infection had to be addressed by ensuring that people had access to prevention, and that women were empowered to negotiate condom use.
“HIV transmission is a complex issue and we should be careful how we handle it. It is irresponsible of any politician suggest that unsafe sex should be criminalised,” she said.
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