Poverty, Patriarchy and the Spread of AIDS in Lesotho

Poverty and ingrained notions of women’s lower status have lead to explosive rate of AIDS infection among women in Lesotho, a small nation in sub-Saharan Africa. AllAfrica reports that one in two women ages 15-24 are HIV-positive, compared with one in four men. In an in-depth investigation of this problem, The New York Times found destitution combined with women’s extremely limited autonomy have contributed to the disproportionate infection rates, with the two factors leading to the desperate phenomenon of what has been termed “transactional sex.”

Women working in the exploitative garment industry in the country where they make on average 70 cents an hour are seldom able to sustain themselves economically. With widespread migration of husbands and boyfriends to mines in South Africa, many women are turning to multiple men to provide services that will help them survive, such as transportation to work, or paying for some food, in exchange for sex.

However, these women are seldom in a position to ask sexual partners use condoms or other contraceptives, The New York Times reports. The majority of African women have neither a socially acceptable, nor legal means of demanding a say in sexual relations, or any other life-changing situations. In Lesotho, for example, married women are legally minors, meaning they are ineligible to open a bank account or to own property without their husband’s permission. AIDS researchers and activists, having made this link between women’s lack of power and the growing feminization of AIDS are now pressuring sub-Saharan African nations such as Lesotho to enact legislature that will guarantee women expanded rights, reports AllAfrica.

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AllAfrica 7/20/04, New York Times 7/20/04, Feminist Newswire 12/01/03

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