Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Women and the solution to the AIDS epidemic

One of my major points of disagreement with the otherwise much beloved John Paul II concerned his rejection of using condoms to curb the AIDS epidemic. This dogmatic move completely ignored the realities of human sexuality, of which the Church should be acutely aware, at least if the priests are not completely asleep in the confessional. But recently, Pope Benedict XVI stated in his book, that "where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, condoms can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality." This came about 18 months after he, too, disparaged condoms as ineffective in prevention of infection by HIV, or may make matters even worse. (Where he got the idea that distributing condoms may aggravate the pandemic, I do not know, but it seemed to highlight the Holy Father's tragic miseducation on the proper use of condoms as prophylactic tools, i.e., that they are supposed to be applied before every intercourse.)  

At any rate, the Holy See's mild change of heart came a little too late for the millions of Africans who were infected with the disease while the Church preached abstinence. (22.4 million adults and children were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2008.)  As parents of teenagers know quite well, abstinence as the only prophylactic method is a dangerous, ineffective, and incomplete proposition. People are practicing abstinence only until temptation overtakes them, and leaving them without an alternative to protect themselves is irresponsible teaching. But, from a feminist perspective, the major problem with the Church's position on AIDS prevention is that it ignores how little a woman may succeed in practicing abstinence, or control the faithfulness of her partner.

As Michel SidibĂ©, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said, the AIDS epidemic unfortunately remains an epidemic of women. 16 million women across world are infected with the disease, while another 850,000 die of it every year. It is easy to understand why: The AIDS epidemic has had a unique impact on women, which has been exacerbated by their role within society, and their biological vulnerability to HIV infection. As to women's role in society: in most developing countries today, women do not choose their sexual partners. Their parents choose with whom they are allowed to have sexual relationship, and, when married, their husband controls all the details of their sexual relationship, i.e., the frequency of intercourse, whether she may decline his sexual advances, whether she may use prophylactic, etc. And last but not least, their husband controls whether he has any sexual relations with women other than his wife, while women are enormously constrained in investigating his fidelity. 

Of course, there is an elephant in the room: we also need to get a grip on the population of this planet. The biblical mandate to "go forth and multiply" has been fulfilled splendidly: we populated this planet to the hilt. Nevertheless, the Church will probably continue to deny that there is a real need in our world to increase our responsibility in caring for our existing populations, and to raise the next generations well, with as much love and care as we should.  And preventing our existing population's disease and hunger should be now our primary concern.

For centuries, the Church's preaching for monogamous catholic family life has proved ineffective.  Facing a deadly pandemic is not the best time to engage in more of the same wishful thinking.


Rebecca said...

I will never understand the outdated and misogynistic policies of the Catholic Church. It continues to engage in subordination, intimidation and abuse of women and children.

Why is the Vatican investigating American nuns because they have the temerity to want to be ordained but at the same time blatantly ignoring the sexual abuse scandals of their own clergy and bishops?


More puzzling and disturbing:
In his Good Friday homily at St. Peter's Basilica, Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa, talked about the need to end violence against women without any acknowledgment of the Church's own culpability in the abuse, endangerment, and intimidation of women.


But a year before the pedophilia crisis hit the news, the National Catholic Reporter analyzed internal Church reports written by two Catholic nuns -- a physician who was a Medical Missionary of Mary, and the AIDS coordinator for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development -- documenting the sexual exploitation of nuns by priests in 23 countries on five continents.


Here are some of the low-lights from the reports:

• One of the nuns was impregnated by a priest, who forced her to have an abortion that killed her, and then officiated at her funeral.
• Priests were alleged to have raped young nuns who approached them for the required certificates to enter religious orders.

• There were priest who told nuns that oral contraceptives would protect them from AIDS and used nuns as "safe" alternatives to prostitutes in countries plagued by AIDS.

• Some of the priests demanded that heads of convents make the nuns sexually available to them.

It is time for the Catholic Church to move beyond the DARK AGES. The double- standards and (pardon the pun) holier than thou attitude of the Catholic Church towards abusive sexual behavior tolerated of its clergy but declaring sinful what is normal and safe sexual behavior by its parishioners, it just tragic.

gtg263r said...

I do not know much about the Catholic Church or its beliefs, but it seems to me that its stance on condom use likely stems from religious and/or moral foundations. I agree with the author's overall tenor in this post.

I just wanted to pose some questions and share some thoughts on the subject as I read through the blog post.

1. From what I know and have read about AIDS recently, it seems that it has become a "manageable" disease. What I mean by that is that through a cocktail of drugs, doctors and scientists are enabling AIDS patients to live with it. It is, of course, still an incredibly destructive disease, but I was wondering if anyone had any insight in to how this factors (if at all) into AIDS prevention programs?

2. The author mentioned that "AIDS is an epidemic of women." I do not want to downplay the importance of the author's point, but I just wanted to acknowledge the significance that AIDS has for the male gay community. (Moreover, I am positive the author is aware of this point and do not mean to suggest otherwise.)

I feel that AIDS is probably still stigmatized as a "gay disease" to some extent, which I believe is unfortunate and inaccurate - as the author's post reveals.