Thursday, January 19, 2006

Africa, Just Say NO to Sex...

K.Lo brings us Laura Bush's testimonial about abstinence:

GOOD SENSE FROM LAURA BUSH, IN AFRICA [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
Via Bill Sammon:

"I'm always a little bit irritated when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is absolutely 100 percent effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted disease," Mrs. Bush said, before tying her answer in with one of the major themes of her trip, women's rights in Africa.

"In a country or a part of the world where one in three people have a sexually transmitted deadly disease, you have to talk about abstinence, you really have to," she said. "In many countries where girls feel obligated to comply with the wishes of men, girls need to know that abstinence is a choice."

Posted at 02:35 PM

Thanks for that good sense, Laura.

Now, let's hear from the experts:

Much of the HIV prevention work in developing countries now focuses on sexual abstinence until marriage, but remaining faithful to her husband won't help a woman to stay safe from HIV if he is the one who infects her. In fact, this is one of the most common ways in which women are infected in many places.

So, Laura, is your message to African women, "Abstain from sex with your husbands, or you deserve to get sick"?

And then there's this:

In many countries - especially less socially stable regions - there is a greater likelihood of women's first sex being forced or in some way coerced. Rape can be a devastating experience for any woman, and can also carry the risk of HIV infection. Sexual violence against women is more common in some parts of the world than in others. South Africa, for example, has one of the highest rates of sexual violence, coupled with a huge HIV prevalence. In some parts of Africa there is a belief that having sex with a virgin can 'cure' HIV infection - leading to the rape of young women and children by HIV+ men.

Laura, maybe you can tell African women, "Abstain from being raped. It's 100% effective in preventing STDs."

Anyway, while I think that promoting abstinence isn't a bad thing, relying on it as the main weapon to combat AIDS is criminally stupid.

Remember that $15 billion in global AIDS relief that President Bush promised in 2003? Well, it had moral strings attached: recipient countries have to emphasize abstinence over condoms, and must condemn prostitution (even though is some countries, educating prostitutes about AIDS prevention is one of their most effective methods of combating the disease).

It seems that $1 billion of that $15 billion in aid was reportedly earmarked for abstinence education. Religious groups which de-emphasize or even oppose the use of condoms receive the bulk of the total grant money -- and now, in some countries, the supplies of condoms are very limited, and condom use has been stigmatized, which experts predict could lead to disaster. But at least the people are becoming more moral (or dying)!

Now, here's some info from the Global AIDS Alliance (emphasis added):

What's more, focusing on abstinence and monogamy ignores the reality facing young women and girls in Africa and other impoverished regions, who are often infected by wandering husbands or forced to have sex in exchange for food or shelter. Among 15- to 24-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa, studies show, more than three times as many young women are infected with HIV as young men. Preaching about abstinence and faithfulness to girls and women in risky situations "can't be made sense of on any level," Jacobson says. "It's not only contrary to public-health best practices, it's contrary to common sense and contrary to human rights principles."

The emphasis on morality is being driven by social conservatives who have made spreading the gospel of abstinence and monogamy to Africans their primary mission. "Condoms promote promiscuity," says Derek Gordon of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family. "When you give a teen a condom, it gives them a license to go out and have sex." At a congressional hearing in April, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., threatened to cut funding for organizations that promote condoms. "The best defense for preventing HIV transmission is practicing abstinence and being mutually faithful to a non-infected partner," Hyde declared. And under a proposal being pushed by Hyde and his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, Tobias would be given the power to divert even more money toward promoting abstinence. "All [conservatives] can think about is making Africans abstinent and monogamous," says a Democratic staffer. "It's the crassest form of international social engineering you could imagine."

So, Laura, thanks so very much for your empowerment message to African women -- I'm sure they'll find it really helpful.

But at least Kathryn benefited from it. And I'm sure your daughters are fine examples of chaste, abstinent living -- or is your message only for poor, dark-skinned people?

(Sorry, everybody, but I'm always a little bit irritated these days when I hear the Bush women dispense advice to the little people.)

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