Male Dominance Has Led to World’s Highest Rate of HIV in Swaziland

Experts are pointing to polygamy, rape, sexual violence, and legal exploitation as the main causes why Swaziland, an African country that borders South Africa, has the world’s highest HIV infection rate (39 percent). Alan Brody, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative, concluded that the quick spread of HIV/AIDS in the country is due to men’s dominance over women and their use of laws, religious, and customs to justify their dominance, reports the LA Times. The ten countries with the highest percentages of adults living with HIV/AIDS in the world are all in sub-Saharan Africa, where patriarchy is deeply rooted.

Swaziland‘s King Mswati III reinforces traditional gender roles for women in his society by participating in a traditional dance of chastity, the “Reed Dance,” which is a meat market for men and a channel for AIDS. It is customary for Swazi monarchs to select new brides and concubines at the Reed Dance ceremony where hundreds of young women dance bare-chested. In 2002, King Mswati was accused of abducting18-year-old Zena Mahlangu to be his 12th bride during the annual Reed Dance ceremony in September.

Meanwhile, Ann Veneman, outgoing US Secretary of Agriculture, has been nominated by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to head UNICEF, an international organization that has been a long supporter of comprehensive reproductive health and sex education and has been a major advocate fighting against the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan African countries like Swaziland. At a recent press conference, Veneman stated that reproductive health and sex education are not relevant to the missions of UNICEF.

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LA Times 1/23/05; Feminist Daily News Wire 1/21/05, 12/30/02

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