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The Ministry of Health Jamaica in its National HIV/STI Program(NHP) confirms that the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has doubled among women compared with males between the late 90s and 2011(Ministry of Health Jamaica, 2011). These statistics assert that despite of the increased general awareness made by agencies like the NHP, other societal factors which have influenced its spread among more females than males. The social vulnerability of women is linked with a cultural reticent which perceives females as passive sexual objects, who are expected to do any sexual act necessary for a male’s gratification for monetary gains or otherwise, irrespective of the male engaging in any activity which makes him more susceptible to HIV/AIDS. The prevalence of HIV/ AIDS among Jamaican women has been ascribed to the high cases of female unemployment or economic dependency on their male partners, the cultural glorification of sex which stereotypes women as sexual objects and the discrimination faced by women who are living with the virus.
Firstly, the high cases of unemployment or economic dependency on their male partners have led to an increase in HIV/ AIDS among Jamaican women. Despite Jamaica being a matrifocal society, gender biases prevent women from gaining high paid employment or in some cases they are paid significantly less compared to their male counterparts. Furthermore, some women who are untrained or have not attained a post-secondary or primary education, find it difficult to attain a high paying job. Consequently, some women may engage in prostitution as a means to provide for themselves and their children which increases their risk of contracting HIV/ AIDS. In contending with this belief, Figueroa et al (2008) asserted that, “Many female sex-workers report that they do not like the trade but it pays better than most other employment that they can do, such as domestic work, and they need the money to look after their children (pp.569). This statement asserts the social awareness of women towards the great gender inequality which exist and the valuation of women to mere sexual objects, rather than as possible breadwinners to support and socialize the next generation. On the other hand, some women who are economically dependent on men, who are sexually promiscuous are often forced to perform sexual acts to retain their source of income. These women are sometimes abused sexually or otherwise by their male counterparts as they have no negligible say on relationship issues.
Additionally, many young women engage in intergenerational relationships, with older men for monetary and other incentives, and are left prone to contracting the virus. Hickling, Gibson, Matthies and Morgan (2015) underscored that young adolescent females were three times as likely to contract HIV as they engage in sex with older men (p.216). This highlights the ‘sugar daddy’ phenomenon, were young girls engage in this ‘accepted form of prostitution’, increasing their vulnerability to the virus.
Secondly, the cultural glorification of sex and the perception of women as sexual objects, increases the vulnerability of women to contracting HIV/ AIDS. Jamaican popular culture which is influenced by the media endorses women engaging in early sexual activity, to “get and keep a man” and most females who act on this endorsement are unaware of negative implications of sex and leave themselves at risk of contracting HIV/ AIDS. Forbes (2006) adduced the sexually explicit dimension of dancehall culture, both its lyrics and practices in the dance arena which pressures females to be highly sexualize. This highlights that dancehall culture socializes and also mirrors the society which ‘big up’ females to sexually offer themselves to appease their partner, irrespective of them being ‘wifey’ or ‘matey’ ,as it is the man’s choice to structure sexual relations. Therefore, unsafe sexual practices and attitudes are perceived as right and this cultural baton is passed on despite many social interventions to correct the sexual perceptions which exist. Additionally, the Jamaican popular culture encourages males to have multiple sexual partners without using a condom as it interferes with their sexual pleasure, increasing the vulnerability of females to contracting HIV/ AIDS. Figueroa et al (2008), highlighted that despite the increased use of condoms among the population, females are often expected to stop using condom after the first sexual interactions, as a sign of trust and older men sometimes do not use a condom as they are unaware of how to use it or think it will interfere with their erections (pp.569). This helps explaining the optionality of condom use among Jamaicans, that it is a barrier to the sexual pleasure with their partner. This is an embedded perspective in the society, that the use of ‘rubber’ can kill the sexual dominance of a man, rather than a means to protect himself and his partner for sexually transmitted diseases. Women who refuse to adhere to the prevailing sexual norms, are often victims to sexual violence. The stipulated sexual docility of women gives men the entitlement to obtain sex from any woman they want, and if there is any form of sexual resistance, women are often sexually abused or rape. Postmodern culture often depict sexual restraints as old fashioned and even unnecessary and women are shamed as frigid or abnormal.
Additionally, the accepted code of dress for women, to announce their femininity, is taken by some as a justifiable excuse of why women are sexually abused as they ‘ask for it’. This has negative physiological implications for women, who would be unaware of the HIV/ AIDS status of their abuser. Furthermore, women who are sexually abused are seen as weak and, for fear of being ostracized, may refuse health care which increases the risk they have to developing HIV/ AIDS.
Finally, the discrimination faced by women who are living with the virus, discourages other women from knowing their HIV/ AIDS status. Women who are HIV positive are often discriminated against by health professionals and this prevents them from seeking health care. Jamaica Aids support for life (2012) has maintained that, “Most of the HIV positive women … perceived to be judgmental attitudes of health care workers towards them and the reluctance of health care providers to listen to their concerns.”(pp. 21) Many women who are HIV positive fear the stigma and discrimination that they might face in accessing healthcare as they feel there is no real confidentially and professionalism in the Jamaican healthcare service. Hence, this impedes other women from getting tested from fear of being ostracized as doing an HIV/AIDS test signals the possibility of having the virus. Women who are HIV positive also face violent discriminatory acts. They may be subjected to violent acts, and are often emotionally, sexually and physically abused as it is the societal claim they are the perpetual reason why men have contracted the virus. The violence women face is attributed to the general lack of education about the virus, and confirmation biases that anyone can catch the virus by just being in the presence of anyone who is infected.
The prevalence of HIV/ AIDS among women is prescribed to a number of social implication increasing the vulnerability of women with or without the virus. The high cases of unemployment or economic dependency on their male partners, the Jamaican popular culture encourages males to have multiple sexual partners without using a condom as it interferes with their sexual authority, and the increased level of discrimination faced by women who are living the virus, discourages other women from knowing their HIV/ AIDS status. The ‘social attack’ of HIV/AIDS among Jamaica women can be prevented, if the women are allowed to voice their societal struggles.
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