• All over the
world, women find themselves at special risk of HIV infection because
they lack the power to determine where, when and how sex takes place.
But the same expectations, cultural beliefs and social customs of men
that so disempower women also heighten men’s own vulnerability. HIV
infections and AIDS deaths among men outnumber those of women on every
continent except sub-Saharan Africa. The younger the men are, the more
they are at risk: men under 25 years of age make up about a quarter
of the 36.1 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS.
• Curbing the
AIDS epidemic demands that harmful notions of masculinity be reshaped,
along with the many common attitudes that shape how boys are socialized
to become men and how men regard risk. The customary association of
manhood with physical strength, emotional indifference, virility and
daring can translate into behaviour that threatens the health and well-being
of men and their sex partners. At the same time, men can play a powerful
role in tackling AIDS.
• Research shows
that people generally maintain behavioural patterns that they learn
at an early age. It is therefore easier to achieve the goal of 100%
condom use if young men adopt that behaviour as soon as they become
sexually active. Given the appropriate information and life skills,
boys and young men can be empowered to make responsible and healthy
choices that include abstinence and delayed sexual activity, as well
as safer sex.
• The World AIDS
Campaign’s emphasis on men also reflects the fact that men are less
likely to seek health care than women. In all but a handful of countries,
men have a lower life expectancy at birth and experience higher death
rates during adulthood than women. Yet, boys are often brought up to
think of themselves as impervious to illness or risk. Real men, they
are led to believe, don’t get sick. The Campaign sets out to ensure
that the health needs of men (including those living with HIV and AIDS)
get the attention they deserve—not least from men themselves.
Drawing men into
the struggle against AIDS
• Men have to
become more involved in the fight against AIDS. Over 70% of HIV infections
worldwide occur through sex between men and women, and 10% through sex
between men. Approximately 5% of infections occur among people who inject
drugs—four-fifths of them men. All over the world, men tend to have
more sex partners (as well as extramarital partners) than women, thereby
increasing their own and their primary partners’ risk of contracting
HIV. The secrecy, stigma and shame associated with HIV further compound
matters, since they discourage men and women from discovering or even
acknowledging their HIV-positive status.
• Some circumstances
place men at especially high risk of contracting HIV. Men who migrate
for work and are separated from their families may pay for sex and use
substances, such as alcohol, to cope with the stress and solitude. That
combination increases their risk of infection. So does the culture of
risk-taking that tends to characterize predominantly male environments
like the military. In all-male institutions such as prisons, men who
otherwise prefer women as sex partners may have unsafe sex with other
men. In a world of AIDS, this can be deadly.
• Male violence
is an important factor in the spread of HIV through the displacement
of communities by wars and civil conflict, as well as through coerced
sex. Each year, millions of men commit sexual violence against women,
girls and other males—often in their own family or household. According
to a UNICEF report, worldwide at least one in three women will, in their
lifetime, be beaten, sexually assaulted or otherwise abused.
• Part of the
answer lies in men emerging from behind their veils of silence and fortitude.
Men—especially those who lead countries, religious organizations, communities
and businesses—need to speak out as friends, parents, partners and citizens.
They need to lead by example.
• By focusing
on men, the World AIDS Campaign challenges leaders and role models—from
politicians to sports stars and entertainers—to affirm and demonstrate
their commitment to fight AIDS. It offers them a platform to do so and
provides avenues for supporting prevention and care programmes around
• But a balance
must be struck between recognizing how men’s behaviour contributes to
the epidemic and building on their potential to make a difference. As
politicians, entertainers, pioneers, frontline workers, fathers, sons,
brothers, partners and friends, men have much to give. Their capacity
for nurturing and caring within the community needs to be encouraged.
Similarly, they need to be prompted to take a much stronger hand in
caring for their partners and families—a responsibility that is magnified
by an AIDS epidemic that has robbed more than 13 million children of
their mother or both parents.
• None of this
suggests an end to prevention programmes for women and girls. Rather,
the Campaign complements those endeavours by recognizing that until
men everywhere dare to care, the struggle against HIV/AIDS will only
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