The Orphan

“What’s the matter, Honey?” Ralph Forrester asked six year old Janet as she lay there in bed, crying.  He was there to read to read her a bedtime story as usual and was surprised to find her in her present state.  When he sat down on the bed, she sat up and hugged him.  He gently patted her on the back, trying to soothe her until the sobs subsided.  “Now tell me what’s the matter,” he coaxed when she drew back to look up at him.

“Aunt Agnes called me a Gremlin,” she wailed.  “Gremlins are ugly, horrid creatures.”

“They are also very mischievous,” he told her, relieved that it wasn’t anything serious although to her it was.  “Did you get yourself into trouble again?”

She hung her head.  “Yes,” she admitted reluctantly.  “It was my idea to bathe the dog in the bathtub because he was so dirty.  Matthew helped me to put him in the bath.  While I was washing the dog, he went to get a towel to dry him off and that’s when Aunt Agnes walked in.  She was really mad and that’s when she called me a Gremlin.”

“Honey, she was understandably angry because you were bathing a dirty animal in her nice, clean bathtub.  And you must have made quite a mess.”

“She said that I was a bad influence on Matthew.  What does influence mean?”

“It means you make Matthew do things that he wouldn’t usually do.”

She looked contrite.  “I don’t mean to make Matthew do bad things,” she said, “or to get him into trouble.  He’s my best friend.”

Ralph patted her hand.  “I know.  We never mean to get others in trouble but sometimes we do.  I think it would be best for now if you didn’t visit Matthew at the manor.  He could come here instead.  Beth and I will make sure you don’t get into any mischief.”

“I don’t think Aunt Agnes likes me very much,” she said, surprising him.  “Is it because I’m adopted?”

He stared at her.  “Who told you that you’re adopted?” he asked.

“Aunt Agnes.  She told me that you and Beth adopted me when I was a baby.  What happened to my real parents?”

“They died and you were placed in an orphanage.  Beth and I always wanted to adopt a child from Africa. We chose South Africa because we were there once on a mission trip and loved it.  As soon as our application was approved, we went the orphanage where you were.  We loved you the very first moment we saw you.  I remember you staring up at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes of yours and I promised God and myself that I would take very good care of you.  We named you Janet which means ‘God’s gracious gift’ because you were a gift from God.”

She smiled.  “I’m happy that you and Beth adopted me,” she said, hugging him.  Then, she settled back on the pillows and waited for him to read to her.  When he was done, he kissed her goodnight, switched off the bedside lamp and left the room.

Beth was in the kitchen fixing them a pot of tea when he went downstairs.  He went over to the table and sat down.  Beth turned and looked at him.  “What’s the matter, Honey?” she asked.

He grimaced.  “Agnes told Janet that she’s adopted. What right did she have to do so?”

Beth brought over the two cups of steaming tea and after setting one in front of him, she sat down.  “While I agree that it should have been left to us to tell Janet that she’s adopted, it must be obvious to her by now that she’s different.  You remember the other day when she came home from school, very upset because some children had asked her how she could have white parents when she was black.”

“I wish people would mind their own business,” he muttered crossly.  “Janet doesn’t think that Agnes likes her because she’s adopted.”

“There are very few people whom Agnes likes,” Beth said dryly.  “She didn’t approve of you marrying me.  I was a bad influence on you.  It was on account of me that you gave up your rather cushy job to become a missionary.”

“For as long as I live, I will never regret marrying you, becoming a missionary and adopting Janet.  Agnes has always been a controlling woman but she has never been able to manipulate me, though she tried to.  She objected to my marriage, change in career and decision to adopt but her objections fell on deaf ears.  I’m happy with the life I have made for myself and will not tolerate any interference from her.  She’s my sister not my mother.”

“Sometimes, she acts like she has two sons instead of one.”

“Poor Matthew.  She’s always doting on him.  I pity the girl he ends up marrying.  Unless, Matthew and his bride moved far away from Yorkshire and his mother’s influence, they will never get a moment’s peace.”

“I’m very fond of Matthew.  He’s such a loving and considerate child.  No doubt he takes after his father, God rest his soul.”

“Yes, if I had a son, I would have wanted him to be like Matthew.”

Beth looked at him.  “Do you still regret not having children of you own?” she asked. They had tried to conceive but couldn’t.  It turned out that he had an undescended testicle when he was a baby.  He was devastated because he was looking forward to raising a family with Beth.  Beth had pushed aside her own disappointment and sought only to console him.  Several years went by before they considered adopting and six years ago, they welcomed Janet into their lives.

“Yes, sometimes,” he admitted.  “But I have since realized that things happen for a reason.  If we had been able to have our children, that precious little girl upstairs would not be here.  She has brought so much joy in our lives.  I can’t imagine not having her around.  I thank God every day for her.  She is truly a blessing.”

Tears pricked Beth’s eyes and she reached out and covered his hand with hers.  “Yes, she is.”

Twelve years later, they were gathered in the living-room watching and smiling as Janet blew out the nineteen candles on her cake.  Ralph and Beth watched her.  It was hard to believe that it was same girl they had brought home from the orphanage.  She had grown into a lovely young lady.  They watched as she put a piece of the cake in Matthew’s mouth, laughing as he got some of the icing on his nose. “Do you suppose that those two will end up falling in love?” Beth asked in a low voice so that the others couldn’t overhear.

Ralph glanced at her.  “I wouldn’t object if that were to happen but you know Agnes…”

“Yes,” she sighed.  “She will do her best to sever any romantic attachment that may develop between them.”

Just then the doorbell rang.  “I wonder who that could be,” Ralph said.

“I’ll and see who it is.”  Beth hurried from the room and down the corridor to the front door.  She peered through the keyhole and her eyes widened in surprise and delight.  She opened the door.  “Blaine,” she exclaimed, hugging him.  “It’s so good to see you.”

He smiled.  “It’s good to see you too, Beth.”

“When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“Come in.”

He went in and glanced toward the living-room where he heard voices and laughter.  “It sounds like you’re having a party.”

“Yes.  We are celebrating Janet’s birthday.”

“How old is she now?”

“Nineteen.”

“The last time I saw her, she was ten.”

“Yes, well, she’s all grown up now.  Wait till you see her.  Come and let me introduce you to everyone.”

He removed his shoes and followed her to the living-room.  Beth introduced him to Janet’s friends, some of the girls cast admiring glances at him.  He shook hands with Matthew.  “You’ve gotten tall,” he said, grinning.  Matthew smiled.

Blaine’s attention shifted to the girl standing next to Matthew.  “Janet?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

He stared at her. “I can’t believe how much you have changed since the last time I saw you,” he said.

She smiled.  “I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a woman.”

“A young lady,” Beth interjected.  “Are you hungry?” She asked Blaine.

He shook his head.  “I had a late lunch.”

“Would you like a slice of cake?” Janet asked.

“Yes, thank you.”  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.  She had changed so much.  Gone was the little girl with the pigtails who used to follow him around, chatting incessantly about school, beg him to push on her on the swing and give her a piggyback ride.  Standing before him was a very attractive young lady in a pretty blue dress with a smile that melted his heart.

She cut a slice of cake and gave it to him.  “How long will you be staying?”

“Two weeks.”

“Only two weeks?”  She couldn’t hide the bitter disappointment she was feeling.  In the past his visits had been sporadic but she never had to wait for more than a year to see him.  This last time, nine years had passed before she saw him again and it would be for only two weeks.  He was a Management Consultant.  How she wished that he had a different job—one that would not take him out of the country and away from her.  She missed him terribly.  “Will you come again tomorrow?” she asked, hopefully.

He nodded.  “Yes,” he said quietly.  “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Just then one of her friends pulled her away to take photos and Matthew joined him.  For the rest of the evening, they were apart, mingling with other people and at the end of the evening as things were winding down, he went over to her.  “I’ll be leaving now,” he said.

“You promise you will come tomorrow?”

He nodded.  “Yes.”  He reached down and hugged her.  “Happy birthday, Janet.”

She saw him to the door and stood there watching his tall, slender figure stride briskly to his parked Aston Martin car and climb in.  She waved and waited until the car disappeared before going back into the house.  She couldn’t wait to see him the next day.

He showed up the following afternoon as promised and subsequently every day for the two weeks he was in London.  She would sit there and listen to Ralph and Beth ask him countless questions about his travels, patiently waiting for her time alone with him.  As soon as that time came, she would take him outside where they would spend most of the afternoon.  Once, when they were standing by the swing, he said, “You’re too grown up now for me to give you a piggyback ride, but I can still push you on the swing.  She sat down and laughed as he pushed her.  It brought back memories.  Other times they sat on the deck talking for hours or go for walks.

Then, it was his final evening and they were out in the backyard.  The sun was setting.  It cast an orange glow on them as they stood there facing each other.

He studied her face.  “I must be leaving now,” he said quietly.  “Are you sorry to see me go?”

She glanced up at him.  “Yes,” she answered, surprised that he would ask such a question.  I don’t know when I will see you again.

“May I kiss you goodbye?” he asked, moving closer to her.

She looked up at him, her heart racing.  “Yes,” she said breathlessly.  She lowered her head so that he could kiss her on the forehead like he used to when she was a child.  Instead, she felt his hand under her chin raising her face up so that she was staring up into his.  She watched, mesmerized as he bent his head slowly towards hers and his lips get closer.  Her breathing was quick and unsteady now.  She felt his mouth on hers and readily responded. Blaine’s hands cupped her face as the kiss became more intense.

She clutched his arms, her fingers digging into the fabric of his jacket as she felt herself going weak in the knees.  Eyes squeezed shut as if to blot out the world, she savored her first kiss, wishing that it would last.  It lasted for several minutes and then Blaine drew back, his face flushed.  She reluctantly opened her eyes and looked up at him.  They were both breathing heavily.

“I have to leave now,” he muttered thickly.

“Why?” she asked.  “Why can’t you stay a little longer?”

“If I stay, I will kiss you again.”

“I want you to kiss me again—”

“No,” he groaned, pushing his fingers through his hair, his eyes darkening.  “I can’t.”

She looked bewildered.  “But why?”

“I’m too old for you, Janet.  You need to be with a guy your own age like Matthew.”

“But, I don’t want to be with Matthew or anyone else,” she cried.  “Why can’t I be with you?  You’re only ten years older than me.  You’re not like Maxim DeWinter who was forty-two and married a girl my age.”

“You’re right, I’m not Maxim DeWinter.  I can’t be with a girl so much younger than me.  In September, you will be attending university.  That means you will around people your age.  Sooner or later, you will meet someone, fall in love with him and forget about me.”

She shook her head.  “No, I won’t,” she cried.  “I love you,”

A muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  “You’re infatuated not in love.”

“Do you think because I’m young, I don’t know what love is?”

“I shouldn’t have kissed you,” he said.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.  It was an utterly foolish thing to do–” he broke off when she started to cry.  He pulled her into his arms and held her closely.  “Don’t cry,” he begged, as she buried her face in his chest.

The feel of her body against his was his undoing.  Unable to help himself, he gripped the hair at the nape of her neck and pulled her head back so that he stare down into her wet face before his lips closed feverishly over hers.  Her impassioned response to his kisses inflamed him.  It was no use.  He couldn’t walk away from her now.  She was in his blood and in his heart.

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Sources:  Gov.UK; International Adoption Guide; Evening Standard;  The Guardian; London City Mission

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Rape in South Africa

I barely caught the headline about a South African girl who was raped and badly beaten.  I searched for the story on the Internet and came across some startling information.  Apparently South Africa is known as the “rape capital”.  According to Women’s groups, a woman is raped every 26 seconds.  The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest in the world.

For the period 1998–2000, South Africa was ranked first for rapes per capita according to the United Nations Office on Crimes and Drugs for the period 1998–2000.  It is estimated that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime and that only 1 in 9 rapes are reported.  It is also estimated that 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.  According to a survey that questioned rape victims who did not report the crime to the police, 33.3% of victims cited they feared reprisals, 9.6% cited that they felt the police would not be able to solve the crime, and 9.2% cited embarrassment as their reasons for not reporting the crime.

There are several different forms of sexual violence, including, but not limited to: rape or sexual assault, child sexual assault and incest, intimate partner sexual assault, unwanted sexual contact/touching, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, revealing one’s genitals to another without consent, public masturbation, and voyeurism.  There are several types of sexual violence cases in South Africa that have specifically garnered a significant amount of international attention:

South Africa has the highest reported incident of rape in the world.  While men are also subjected to sexual violence and 3.5% of men have been forced to have sex with other men, the majority of sexual violence is against women.  The South African government reports that one of these reasons is the culture of patriarchy in South Africa. Its report states that patriarchy is firmly rooted in the country and fighting it is seen as attempting to destroy African tradition or Afrikaner ideals.  The danger from rape and sexual assault is compounded because of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South African townships. A woman being raped over the age of 25 has a one in four chance that her attacker is HIV positive and more women than men are affected from HIV/AIDS.   The perpetrators of rape in South Africa tend to be men known to the victim.  It is reported that a husband or boyfriend kills a woman every six hours in South Africa.  Many men and women say that rape cannot occur in relationships; however, one in four women reported having been abused by an intimate partner.

Corrective rape is prevalent in South Africa.  More more than 10 women per week are raped or gang-raped in Cape Town alone because of their sexual orientation.  31 have been died from their attacks.  Two years ago Noxolo Nogwaza , 24 years old was raped, beaten and stabbed to death on her way home from a night out with her friends in the South African township of Kwa Thema on 24 April 2011.  Her brutalised body was dumped in a shallow ditch.  It is believed that the motive was her sexual orientation.  Little progress is made on her case and her attackers still remain at large.

There is also the problem of sexual violence in schools.  girls from all levels of society and ethnic groups have been subjected to sexual violence at school in bathrooms, empty classrooms, dormitories, and more. Police, prosecutors, and social workers have also complained that many incidents of sexual violence in schools are not reported to them because schools often prefer to deal with it internally, thus hindering justice against the perpetrators. The danger of sexual violence in schools has created a barrier for girls to seek education. HRW also reported that South African girls’ school performance suffers after an incident of sexual violence.

Societal attitudes contribute to this epidemic.  The Medical Research Council states, “Many forms of sexual violence, particularly sexual harassment and forms of sexual coercion that do not involve physical force are widely viewed as normal male behaviour.”

Among children, a survey by CIET found 60% of both boys and girls, aged 10 to 19 years old, thought it was not violent to force sex upon someone they knew, while around 11% of boys and 4% of girls admitted to forcing someone else to have sex with them. The study also found that 12.7% of the students believed in the virgin cleansing myth.

In a related survey conducted among 1,500 school children in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, a quarter of all the boys interviewed said that ‘jackrolling’, a term for gang rape, was fun.  Furthermore, more than half the interviewees insisted that when a girl says no to sex she really means yes.  It is also noteworthy that those in this study were school children as age is significantly associated with rape. Men from ages 20–40 are more likely to have raped than younger or older men.

Market Research Africa, a Johannesburg-based market research agency, reported in 1994 that 76% of men felt that women had a right to say no to sex, one third thought that women could not decide for themselves on abortion, and 10% condoned a man beating a woman or his wife.

I can’t imagine why anyone would think a woman means “yes” when she is fighting off the man’s unwanted attention.  “No” means “no”.   No woman wants to be forced to have sex with anyone.  Sex is supposed to be consensual.  And rape is not sex.  It is an act of violence.  The 17 year old girl was brutally raped.  The Cape Town newspaper, Cape Argus newspaper stated that she was sliced open from her stomach to her genitals and then dumped as if she were trash on a building site in the town of Bredasdorp, 130 km (80 miles) east of Cape Town.  What is going to become of this?  Will there be justice for this victim in a country where rape has lost its power to shock?  The government of the Republic of South Africa is aware of this problem of sexual violence against women and there is a law which is supposed to ensure rights of all of the people in South Africa with the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.  Furthermore, it calls for the right to freedom and security, including freedom from all forms of violence by either public or private sources and the right to bodily and psychological integrity, including reproduction and bodily security.

It seems to me that the law has very little effect on the violence it is supposed to be protecting its women  from.   The harsh reality is that women are being brutally raped and abused and are not receiving adequate psychological, social, or medical care.  There are few places rape and abuse victims can turn.  The Simelela Centre is one of those places.  It was established in 1998 in response to a case involving the rape of a 1-year-old girl at the hands of her father in Khayelitsha’s Site C.

Something needs to be done and fast.  Women should not be living in fear.  Imagine the fear of your son growing up and one day raping your neighbor’s daughter?   The way men view women has to change.  The law has to do more to protect women and girls.  It’s time for the lawmaker to fulfill their promises.

Outrage grows over the incident, according to a news report on CNN.  Many marched the streets of Bredasdorp toward the crime scene, chanting, “No violence! No violence.”  Residents say that this attack is uncharacteristic of the rural town.  I read that the girl’s injuries were so horrific that the hospital staff who battled to save her life needed counseling.  She was able to identify one of her attackers before she died.  He was a family friend. The victim’s aunt had this to say about him, “He was a lovely child to have in the house.  He was her friend, and it’s just incomprehensible.”

He and two others have been arrested.  More arrests are forthcoming.  Two of the men arrested have been charged been charged with murder and rape, the same charges the third will face.  Let’s hope that they all will be brought to justice.  It’s unfortunate that it had to take this young girl’s horrific ordeal and subsequent death to spark outrage.  There was the case of a mentally handicapped girl, same age as this last victim was raped by seven men, aged between 14 and 20 and the attack was recorded on a cell phone video which later went viral.  The men are on trial.  Unfortunately, this incident failed to gain the same outrage and attention as did the gang rape in New Delhi.  Columnist Rachel Davis of the online publication, Daily Maverick, raised this disturbing question:  “If the gang-rape of a mentally handicapped 17-year-old failed to get thousands on the streets in protest, what will?”

The men of South Africa need to stand up with the women and speak out against this epidemic.  The perpetrators of these crimes need to be brought to justice and women and girls need to feel safe in their communities.  Girls should be able to go to school and learn in a safe environment.  Their education is important.  They should not be forced to stay out of school because they are afraid of being attacked.  Girls should not have to live in fear of being brutally raped by strangers or even men they know.  Women should not be treated as if they have no value.  Violence against women and girls needs to be taken seriously and the public needs to make as much noise as possible, letting the government and the perpetrators know that they have had enough.  Let us join the men and women of South Africa and say, “No more violence!”  In the words of one of the women from Bredasdorp, “…we must do something.”  No more silence.  It’s time to take action!  Let the death of Anene Booyson count for something.

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Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_violence_in_South_Africa; http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/south-africa-girl-dies-after-rape-comparison-made-to-indian-case-327511; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/06/ana-matronic-backs-amnesty-write-for-rights-campaign; http://www.asafeworldforwomen.org/domestic-violence/dv-africa/dv-safrica/1386-violence-against-women-in-contemporary-south-africa.html; http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/08/world/africa/south-africa-gang-rape/index.html; http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/06/us-safrica-rape-idUSBRE9150VZ20130206

Women and HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2012 was World AIDS Day.  Different organizations such as Project Have Hope, SOS Children’s Villages, One Billion Rising and UNICEF Canada were raising awareness of a disease which has no cure.  Children are orphaned because of AIDS.  According to SOS Children’s Village, 33.3 million people live with HIV/AIDS and 3.4 million of those affected are children.  Lost, ostracized by family members and friends, these children are often forced to live on the streets in some of the most appalling conditions imaginable.

I remember watching the movie GIA with Angelina Jolie as Supermodel Gia Carangi who died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26.  She was addicted to heroin and other drugs.  She contracted HIV through a shared needle.  What a tragic movie it was to see someone so young and with a successful career spiral downhill because drugs had taken over her life.  She was thought to be the first famous woman to die of AIDS.

General Hospital’s Robin Scorpio came to mainstream attention during a 1990s story arc where her boyfriend Stone Cates dies from AIDS and Robin is diagnosed as HIV-positive.  Robin has since married Dr. Patrick Drake and the couple has a daughter, Emma, who, after a brief scare, is shown not to be infected by Robin’s HIV.

Even though there is way more information about the disease now than back in the ’80s, there are still some questions people have about HIV/AIDS.  Some of the frequently asked questions  are:

1. Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

No. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope.

2. How is HIV passed on?

HIV is passed on through infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and rectal secretions. The most common ways HIV is transmitted are through sex without a condom and through sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment. You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup or plate.

3. Can you get HIV from oral sex?

The risk of HIV transmission from performing oral sex is low but it can still happen. It is best to avoid giving oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth or bleeding gums, as this increases the risk of HIV entering your body.

4. How can I protect myself and others from HIV infection?

Always use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex although the risk of transmission of HIV is much lower. You can get free condoms from a sexual health clinic, which you can locate via the FPA website. Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

5. What do I do if I don’t like using condoms?

Condoms have come a long way in recent years and you can now get condoms in different sizes, flavours, and with added features to increase pleasure and heighten sensation. Condoms are still the best way to protect yourself and others from HIV infection, and other STIs, so if you think you don’t like using condoms, it’s worth trying out some different varieties.

If you find using condoms or negotiating condom use difficult, it is worth speaking to your local sexual health clinic or GP.

Other questions are:

Will HIV definitely be passed on during sex between an HIV positive and an HIV negative person?

During sex, it is not an automatic consequence that HIV will transmitted. Compared with some other infectious diseases, risk of HIV infection from a single act of sex is usually low. But of course repeated acts of sex increase probability of transmission which is why it is important to have safer sex. Condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV from being passed on so condoms should always be used during sex to avoid HIV and other STIs.

There are other factors which can increase and reduce the risk of having sex with someone with HIV, but a condom is the safest and easiest way to prevent transmission and stay safe.

Is anal sex more risky than vaginal sex when it comes to HIV transmission?

HIV can be transmitted through both anal and vaginal sex, but in some circumstances there is greater risk involved in anal sex. This is because anal sex carries a greater risk of trauma (such as tearing of the skin and bleeding) which makes it easier for the HIV infection to get through.

What are the symptoms of early HIV infection?

The most common symptoms of early HIV infection, usually occurring around ten days after infection, are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together. This combination of symptoms is unusual in healthy people and indicates the need for an HIV test.  70-90% of people experience symptoms of early HIV infection but some do not experience any. After two-three weeks these symptoms disappear, and someone with HIV may then live for many years without any further symptoms or indicators that they are HIV positive.

What should I do if I experience symptoms of early HIV infection?

If you experience the symptoms of early HIV infection — fever, rash and severe sore throat occurring at the same time — then you should get an HIV test as soon as possible. It could be just a bad case of flu, but there is also a risk it could it be the early signs of HIV infection so it always best to know for sure by getting tested.

Here are some facts that every woman should be aware of:

Women have a higher risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex

Women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal sex than men are for several reasons.

  • The vagina has a larger area (compared to the penis), that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen.
  • Semen can stay in the vagina for days after sex, while men are only exposed to HIV-infected fluids during sex. Semen left in the vagina means a longer exposure to the virus for women.
  • Having untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) makes it more likely for a person to get HIV. This is especially true for women. Small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into a woman’s body.

Women can pass HIV to their partners

Many HIV-positive women with HIV-negative partners worry about passing HIV. Research shows in the United States, men pass HIV more easily than women do. But women can still pass HIV to uninfected partners — both male and female — through all kinds of sex. This is because HIV is in blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, and in cells in the vaginal and anal walls.

If you are HIV-positive, you can pass the virus at any time, even if you are getting treatment. But you may be more likely to pass the virus if:

  • You have a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
  • You have recently been treated for a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
  • You were recently infected with HIV
  • Your partner has an infection or inflammation

The surest way to avoid passing any STI, including HIV, is to not have sex. If you do have sex, it’s important to alwaysuse a male condom correctly and every time you have sex.

Click here to find out when you should get tested for HIV and the types of tests available.

According to the latest (2008) WHO and UNAIDS global estimates, women comprise 50% of people living with HIV.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60% of people living with HIV. In other regions, men having sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDU), sex workers and their clients are among those most-at-risk for HIV, but the proportion of women living with HIV has been increasing in the last 10 years.

This includes married or regular partners of clients of commercial sex, IDU and MSM, as well as female sex workers and injecting drug users.

Gender inequalities are a key driver of the epidemic in several ways:

Gender norms related to masculinity can encourage men to have more sexual partners and older men to have sexual relations with much younger women.

Violence against women (physical, sexual and emotional), which is experienced by 10 to 60% of women (ages 15-49 years) worldwide, increases their vulnerability to HIV.   Forced sex can contribute to HIV transmission due to tears and lacerations resulting from the use of force.

Gender-related barriers in access to services prevent women and men from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care.  Women may face barriers due to their lack of access to and control over resources, child-care responsibilities, restricted mobility and limited decision-making power.

Women assume the major share of care-giving in the family, including for those living with and affected by HIV. This is often unpaid and is based on the assumption that women “naturally” fill this role.

Lack of education and economic security affects millions of women and girls, whose literacy levels are generally lower than men and boys’.

Many national HIV/AIDS programmes fail to address underlying gender inequalities. In 2008, only 52% of countries who reported to the UN General Assembly included specific, budgeted support for women-focused HIV/AIDS programmes.

Virgin cleansing is the mistaken belief or myth that if a man infected with HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases has sex with a virgin girl, he will be cured of his disease.  Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala has recognized the myth as a potential factor in infant rape in South Africa.  Anthropologists Nora E. Groce and Reshma Trasi identified a variation of the practice of the virgin cleansing myth whereby individuals who are “blind, deaf, physically impaired, intellectually disabled, or who have mental-health disabilities” are raped under the erroneous presumption that individuals with disabilities are sexually inactive and therefore virgins.  It is most prevalent in Zimbabwe where the myth is perpetuated by traditional healers advising HIV-positive men to cure their disease by having sex with virgin girls.  Because of the virgin cleansing myth, as many as ten girls are raped every day. As many as 3,600 girls in Zimbabwe each year may be contracting HIV and AIDS after being raped.  UNICEF has attributed the rape of hundreds of girls to the virgin cleansing myth.   Cases have been reported in which a one-day-old infant was raped.  This is a practice that needs to be banned–abolished.  And gender inequality needs to be addressed so that women living with HIV/AIDS will get the treatment they need and not have to live with the stigma and shame.  Education and prevention are key to the fight against this epidemic and the organization amfAR founded in 1985, is doing this through innovative research.  Read here for the sobering statistics of women and HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the world.

This a disease that doesn’t discriminate.  I have read stories of women who contracted HIV from their husbands.  I read stories of women who contracted HIV from birth or from childhood.  HIV/AIDS affect single women, engaged women, married women, women of all races, ages, cultures, backgrounds, etc.  Many of those who found out that their partners, boyfriends, fiances and husbands were positive were devastated and afraid to get tested again for fear of the results.  Many of them contemplate suicide because they can’t face life with this disease.  Mothers worry about leaving their children and pregnant women worry about passing it on to their unborn children.  We all know that abstinence is the safest way to go but what do you say to a woman who at the age of 40 is still a virgin because she wants to preserve herself for her husband, finally meets the man of her dreams, they marry and then later down the road she finds out that he is HIV positive?  Her life is turned upside down.

I read that even though more men than women have HIV, infections among women is on the rise.  the greatest rates of infection occur among women of color (especially African American women). Younger women are more likely than older women to get HIV.   AIDS is second only to cancer and heart disease for women.

What can women do?

Get educated!  Educate yourself about the different ways that you can acquire HIV and then all the ways to protect yourself. Learn your status so that you can protect yourself and your partners.  Teach those around you about how HIV can be transmitted and how you can protect yourself from infection.  Work in your community to improve awareness.  You and your partner should get tested for HIV and other STDs so that you are aware of each other’s status before you have sex.  If you are a pregnant woman, it is especially important that you get tested early to help ensure, that if you are HIV positive, you do not transmit the virus to your unborn child.  Talk about HIV and other STDs with each partner before you have sex.  Ask your partners if they have recently been tested for HIV; encourage those who have not been tested to do so. Use a latex condom and lubricant every time you have sex.  Get tested for HIV once a year.

The good news is that many women with HIV are living longer and stronger lives. With proper care and treatment, many women can continue to take care of themselves and others.

Let’s continue to do everything we can to make HIV/AIDS history.

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Sources:  http://www.hivaware.org.uk/be-aware/faqs.php; http://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids; http://www.who.int/gender/hiv_aids/en/; http://www.amfar.org/about_hiv_and_aids/facts_and_stats/statistics__women_and_hiv_aids/; http://hiv411.org/page.php?pID=30; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gia_Carangi; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_cleansing_myth

Zimele

‘Zimele’ means ‘standing on one’s feet’ in the Zulu language.  I love their logo.  It is of a woman not only standing on her feet but it looks like she is dancing.  This to me expresses the joy of knowing that you are empowering yourself–learning new skills, educating yourself–taking action instead of depending on others to help you.  Joy comes with knowing that you are standing on you own two feet.  Helping people to stand on their own feet is what separates Zimele from the rest of the organizations out there.  Zimele equips and empowers.

Zimele is an organization created from the vision of Rosetta Stander who wanted to develop community self-reliance in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa.  Rosetta was convinced that while non-profit organizations had good intentions, they created a short-sighted welfare environment in which people depend upon the charities for their everyday needs.  Her prior experience of training people in life, vocational, and business skills gave her the conviction that the key to developing South Africa lay in the education of its people.  Education and self-reliance is the best way for a community to survive and thrive.  Rosetta pursued her vision and in 2006, Zimele was formed.  A year later, Zimele USA was founded.  Today, there are Zimele organizations in Canada, the UK and Germany.  The organizations’ mission is to free the rural communities of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa and Zimbabwe from the poverty cycle by transforming each into a ‘Zimele’ community able to ‘stand on its own feet’.

Zimele Canada is throwing their first annual gala here in Toronto.  Here’s your opportunity to learn first hand about the work this organization is doing and to meet its founder, Rosetta Stander.

BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW! 1ST Annual ZIMELE Gala

March 23, 2012

Come join us in the inauguration of the highly anticipated 1ST Annual ZIMELE Gala! This event is an invitation for Toronto to experience a glimpse of the ZIMELE com­munity and see how the region of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa is being empowered to overcome generations of poverty and illness with long term sustainability.

Guests will enjoy a fabulous evening of great food, live entertainment and opportuni­ties to learn more about ZIMELE through various testimonies, including the organization’s founder Rosetta Stander.

Join us in helping the people of South Africa stand on their own two feet!

WHERE: The Columbus Centre, Carrier Gallery
WHEN: Friday, March 23, 2012.
TIME: 6pm cocktail hour , 7pm–11pm
ATTIRE: Semi-formal/cocktail
TICKETS: $85 (no tickets at the door/pre-sale only)

Tickets are on sale now. Click here to purchase your ticket!

For those of you who live in New York or close to New Jersey, Zimele USA is having their annual gala on Sunday, April 1st.  Find out more here.