Minimal male involvement on matters of HIV and AIDS has become a major concern as it appears to undermine efforts at promoting healthy livelihoods. The restrictive nature and the manner in which sexual reproductive health programmes are designed have been fingered as one culprit.
The fact that the design of programmes is largely biased towards females is attributed mainly to cultural and biological factors.
Letlhogonolo Siele, Minister of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA), said there is need for continued research in the area of male involvement in sexual and reproductive health, if ongoing efforts to combat the effects of the HIV and AIDS scourge are to be sustainable.
He further pointed out that cultural beliefs and practices that portray males as superior to females, as well as those that emphasize gender stereotypes have the effect of rendering both sexes susceptible to the risk of HIV infection. Domestic violence has also been cited as another evil linked to outdated cultural practices.
Against this background Siele recommended what he termed a “re-orientation of our cultural aspects” that are not gender sensitive, adding that, combined with deliberated development of initiatives aimed at including men, a lot could be achieved.
It was in that context that he commended University of Botswana academics, Tapologo Maundeni, Bertha Osei-Hwedie, Elizabeth Mukamaambo and Peggy Ntseane for publishing, a “well researched book” under the title: Male Involvement in Sexual Reproductive Health: Prevention of Violence and HIV and AIDS in Botswana.
The book, which was characterized as “evidence-based”, underlines the significance of male involvement in ensuring sustainable outcomes in areas of HIV/AIDS and Gender- based violence.
“Female-oriented reproductive health programmes outnumber male-oriented services in Botswana,” reads part of the book. Further acknowledgement is made of the fact that the government of Botswana fully recognizes that current efforts to encourage men’s participation have by far failed to produce desired or at least significant results.
The authors continued, “Some research findings have indicated that more women are exposed to information about sexual and reproductive health than their male counterparts.”
This is despite the fact that several research projects have been undertaken targeting men’s involvement.
In addition, it was observed that none of these initiatives succeeded in attracting a larger number of men to actively participate in HIV and AIDS management.
However, Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) contends that over and above the “exclusion” of men, there are gaps in the law that creates room for abuse of women such that even where there is talk of their being exposed to more information than their male counterparts, they cannot, of their own, secure their “immunity” from HIV and AIDS.
Linny Keorapetse, Assistant Legal Officer at BONELA, said that whereas, the Penal Code deals specifically with most types of violence and provides stiff penalties as appropriate, many women continue to endure the agony of marital rape because the legal system still frowns over the “ crime” as some feministic invention.
“The minimum penalty for rape is 10 years imprisonment and the sentence is enhanced tremendously if the convict is found to be HIV positive, yet this would apply in all other relationships but a marriage one,” lamented Keorapetse, adding that for as long as the status quo is maintained the danger of HIV and AIDS spiraling out of control remains increasingly imminent, and that the laws must be attuned to the reality on the ground.
One of the salient indicators of the length and breadth to be traveled before things could drastically change is manifest in the level of awareness and the parameters of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA).
According to section 2 of the Act, “ domestic violence takes place between married persons, cohabiting partners, children, family members, co-tenants, partners who are/ were engaged, dating or in a romantic relationship.” Therefore in querying that there has been domestic violence, one would necessarily be expected to demonstrate that a domestic relationship existed.
In spite of this, marital rape, which like other forms of rape is violent is not recognized, thus victims cannot escape the consequent prospect of HIV infection.
To cap it all, Government does not provide shelter for victims of domestic violence who are mainly women, even though the DVA states that, “the victim of DV shall be removed from the scene of abuse, without mentioning where they would be taken to.”
A senior Police Officer, who declined to be quoted by name, expressed concern that the Police department is overwhelmed by cases of domestic violence, but because there is state funded shelter for victims many end up trapped in violent households with the risk of death ever hovering over their heads.
Thus, Siele suggested that interventions that target males at an early age might go a long way towards mitigating the current concerns about the evident indifference of men.