This is more of a thought exercise than a typical post, but I wanted to invite GAB readers to think along with me in light of a post I just read on African sexuality myths and how colonial images of black African male virility relate to modern day AIDS rhetoric. In particular, how do Global North ideas about Africa, HIV/AIDS, and gender roles avoid framing women as change agents and white colonizers as culpable?
The post I linked is written by a white South African woman who asks us to question the focus on “irresponsible” black male sexuality when we talk about AIDS in Africa and instead consider whether we might be giving insufficient attention to other factors. The blogger, Fiona Snyckers, asks us to reflect on how improbable it is that black African men are any more sexual, or have sex any differently, than anyone else. Snyckers cautions that colonial myths about black male virility are not only leading the modern media to focus more on scandals involving black African men than their white counterparts, but also are drawing the focus away from the importance of looking at co-morbidities, poverty, and other factors relevant to AIDS in Africa.
While I very much agree with Snyckers that these colonial myths are damaging and detract from consideration of less sensationalized, more systemic factors, the post got me thinking about the role of sexuality in the spread of HIV and the line between positive education and women’s rights efforts and harmful mythologizing.
There are a lot of myths at play when white Global North activists, media makers, and public health workers talk about AIDS in Africa. We use images of sick women and children that suggest a gendered victimhood, and tend to focus more on African women as helpless recipients of disease than on the accomplishments and struggles of individual African women. We also tend to take away from African women’s agency in academic settings, when we talk about problems such as the unequal status of women in African societies, prevalence of sexual violence and spousal abuse, lack of bargaining power in marital relations, and the impact of sodomy laws on closeted married MSM.
On the other hand, there are serious problems to confront related to African women’s rights, just as there are in all parts of the world. Sex education, anti-violence education, and programs related to gender roles are needed. At the same time, Global North actors need to consider the impact of colonialism, continued exploitation of land and workers, the high cost of drugs, politicized aid program restrictions, war, widespread poverty, lack of access to food and water, limited health care, and other problems for which we are culpable entirely or in part.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer here, but I’d like to encourage discussion in the comments. What is your take on these issues? Have you seen examples of Global North NGOs or individuals “doing it right,” or are there African-led solutions you’d like to lift up for conversation? Please chime in!