Tag Archives: health

Homophobic Policies in Botswana

29 Oct

When I was living in Botswana, every citizen and expatriate knew the laws on homosexuality: it is illegal to have homosexual sex. This law was rarely enforced. 

Now, the government is calling for a campaign against gay men and sex workers in the country, in an attempt to curb the HIV infection rate. Suspected gay men and sex workers will now be arrested and detained, while foreigners of these groups can be detained and/or deported. Read the full story here

I am infuriated by this so-called “HIV prevention strategy.” I truly loved living in Botswana and was aware of many injustices and discriminatory policies, but this is the worst. Not only does this violate the Constitution of Botswana, but it is simply not a legitimate strategy for reducing the infection rates of HIV. While the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among sex workers is high, arresting them in certainly not the answer. Prostitution in Botswana is highest in the refugee camp and amongst the most vulnerable groups, and the government should be addressing the underlying issues that lead to prostitution – as well as the severe gender inequality that leads to women (especially sex workers) to be disempowered to insist on condom use. Furthermore, the prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is significantly lower than the national average (9% vs. 17.6%). 

I am absolutely disgusted by the government of Botswana right now. I urge everyone to oppose Member of Parliament John Toto who made an anti-gay speech last week, and to encourage human rights groups like Ditshwanelo and BONELA to stand against this campaign. 

Reducing HIV infection rates through non-surgical circumcision

29 Jul

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 34 million people are currently infected with HIV/AIDS. More than two-thirds of all people living with HIV are in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are many initiatives working to reduce infection rates in Sub-Saharan African countries, and one of the new exciting innovations is a device for non-surgical male circumcision.

Male circumcision reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission by approximately 60% when engaging in vaginal sex (WHO, 2013). However, the surgical procedure is painful and uncomfortable for men, and is said to reduce sexual pleasure. To increase the amount of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), the WHO has prequalified PrePex, a device for non-surgical male circumcision in May of this year.

For the procedure, an inner ring and an elastic ring are placed on the penis by a PrePex operator. The inner ring keeps the foreskin from retracting, and the elastic ring gently compresses the foreskin to stop the flow of blood so that it loses sensation and dries out. This is a usually painless procedure, and the man returns seven days later to have the dead foreskin and the device removed.

PrePex does not require anesthesia or stitches, which means that medical workers other than doctors (i.e. nurses or traditional health workers) can be trained to do the procedure. Anyone who completes a three-day PrePex certification programme can be a PrePex operator. Although it is up to each country to develop their own policies on who can become a PrePex operator, technically it does not have to be a medical practitioner. This means that traditional circumcisers (who rarely have formal medical training) could potentially be taught to be PrePex operators. This has the potential to reduce the amount of deaths and complications due to infections from improper surgical circumcisions. PrePex is also safer and faster than the traditional surgical method and significantly reduces pain and discomfort, which means that men are more likely to voluntarily undergo the procedure.

There are also some downsides to PrePex. The device needs to be worn for a week and requires two visits to a Prepex operator (one for placement and a second for the removal). The healing time from the procedure is 8 weeks (2 weeks longer than surgical circumcision) during which the man cannot have sex. Additionally, the device has only been prequalified for men over 18 years or older (although trials for boys ages 10 to 17 are in progress).

The biggest downfall of circumcision is that it can sometimes give a false sense of security, reducing the usage of condoms. It is vital that any male circumcision be just part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package, which includes education about safer sex procedures, the distribution and education of condoms and HIV testing and counseling.

If devices such as PrePex become popular and easily accessible, there is great potential to increase the amount of VMMC and hopefully reducing HIV infection rates.

Gender and Health Workshop

3 Dec

This week Gantsi Craft hosted a gender and health workshop in collaboration with Letloa Health (another branch in the Kuru Family of Organizations). The aims of the workshop were to raise awareness and encourage open discussion on health and gender issues. What made this workshop unique compared to workshops in the past, was that it was held with both men and women.

The first day we had officers from the Ghanzi Clinic to come facilitate a session on family planning. The participants seemed really engaged and asked questions about different forms of contraception. It was particularly encouraging to see men be curious and ask questions about contraceptives that are used by women (the IUD had the most interest and questions).

The Ghanzi Clinic officer then demonstrated how to properly use a female condom, which got a ton of giggles and awkward faces from our participants – it reminded me of a grade six health class! But that was nothing compared to when she demonstrated how to properly use a male condom – by using a huge dildo.

As funny as it was to see all of the awkward reactions from participants, it highlighted how important workshops such as these are. Since sex and gender are not openly talked about, it is so important to have workshops where people can gain information, and most importantly, ask questions and generate discussions.

The most useful dialogue came on the second day. We did an exercise where the facilitator would read a statement, then participants would stand by one of the following signs: Strong Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. There was often a very clear gender divide on some of the statements, such as “It is harder to be a woman in this world.” We discussed every statement, and it was really valuable to have both men and women explain what they feel.

Overall, I was really happy with the workshop – it felt like I had finally done something that was actually in my mandate! Now I have my fingers crossed that we will get funding to do these workshops in all of the settlements we work with.

Real Women, Real Pictures

5 Jul

Seventeen Magazine has pledged to no longer air-brush the models in their pages. The entire staff has also signed a pledge to celebrate all kinds of beauty with a range of skin tones, body types, heights and hair textures. See the letter from Seventeen’s editor in chief here and check out their behind the scenes here.

This is also a huge win for the Miss Representation campaign and shows the power of social media. 14-year old Julia Bluhm asked Seventeen to post one unaltered spread in each issue – and the campaign took off. SPARK teamed up with Miss Representation, LoveSocial and I Am That Girl for the #KeepItRealCampaign. This gained support from thousands of people on Twitter, Instagram and blogs asking women’s and girls’ magazines to stop Photoshopping women’s bodies. And the masses won.

So what now?

Get Teen Vogue on board by signing this petition.

Take the Miss Representation pledge “to use my voice to spread the message of Miss Representation and challenge the media’s limiting portrayal of women and girls” and ACT on it.