Harmful sexual practices and gender conceptions in Kwazulu-Natal and their effects on the HIV/AIDS pandemic

Rauch, Rena (Rena Petronella) (2003-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--University of Stellenbosch, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This paper looks critically at particularly two harmful sexual practices most prevalent among the Zulu people in Kwazulu-Natal; virginity testing for girls, and the practice 'dry sex.' It is mostly the ripple effects of these practices, regarding the spread of mV/AIDS that is most alarming to medical science, leaving them no option other than to condemn this behaviour. This treatise however endeavours throughout to proffer understanding for the needs of a culture as diverse and unique as the Zulu people. Further, this paper often looks from an overarching African perspective, since despite African peoples' differences in terms of linguistics, geography, religiosity and general differences in daily run of the mill activities, there is a dominant socioreligious philosophy shared by all Africans. The, a, band c of virginity testing, and the resulting moral issues revolving around this practice are addressed. The main issues regarding the repercussions of virginity testing are discussed as well as the medical controversy involved in these issues. This will prove the limited effectiveness of this practice and the potential, yet serious and harmful ramifications it has for girls who are tested. In stark contrast to these girls, stands the girl who starts at a very tender age with the practice of 'dry sex', often encouraged and taught to her by female elders in order 'to please men'. This practice serves as a very powerful tool for commercial sex workers, venturing the streets and the truck driver stops, as it lures men into making her the preferred choice. So desperate are her socio-economic and cultural circumstances that she risks infection, and ultimate death, in order to comply with his need for unprotected and 'dry sex.' Numerous studies alert us to the fact that the drying agents used lead to lacerations of the vaginal walls, causing SID's, which in tum, exacerbate the spread of the disease. Zulu traditions and customs regarding sexuality and sexual relationships proffer essential insight into the Zulu people's sexual behaviour. In order to strike a balance between two diverse cultural groups, the West and African, a critical assessment of the West's own sexual history guides us to understand the West's 'sober' practice of monogamy is no less 'permissive' and 'promiscuous' than the African's practice of polygamy. The paper also investigates the corresponding differences in relation to indigenous knowledge systems versus science. African people discern the body's physiology and anatomy metaphorically and symbolically. We cannot simply gloss over these perceptions, enforcing scientific-based knowledge in our educational programmes, without consideration and accommodation for a very unique way of interpreting one's daily experiences and one's unique self. It is not only our biased discernment of indigenous knowledge that complicates the Aids pandemic considerably, but it is also enhanced by the burden of stereotyped gender-roles. Not only is a paradigm shift regarding the imbalance of power very much needed, we also need to understand that the inculcated anger some men in the Zulu culture fosters is a force to be reckoned with, as it displays psychological underpinnings of damage, signalling very clearly the need for therapeutic measures of healing. Conversely, the female in the Zulu culture has started to empower herself, but not always in terms of a beneficial end in itself. Similarly, it must alert us to the fine line separating the virgin-whore dichotomy, fuelled by her poverty-stricken and maledominated existence. It would appear that what we are fighting for is more than the preservation of life whilst engulfed by AIDS's scourge, but a global vision where the individual, or a whole community, with regard to mVIAIDS, is "self-reproducing, pragmatically selfsustainable and logically self-contained." (Bauman 1994: 188)

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In die Zoeloe kultuur figureer daar veral twee tradisionele seksuele gedragspraktyke wat kommer wek by sommige Westerlinge, hier ter plaatse sowel as in die buiteland. Alhoewel hierdie praktyke as natuurlik, eksklusief en algemeen beskou word, is daar huidiglik stemme van protes wat waarsku dat die twee praktyke potentiele gevaar inhou vir die mens se gesondheid en geesteswelsyn. Die praktyke behels dat jong en weerlose meisies vanaf die ouderdom van ses jaar gereeld onderwerp word aan 'n vaginale toets om vas te stelofhulle nog 'n maagd is, en, die voorkeur van sommige mans om omgang te he met 'n vrou wat haar vagina op 'n 'onnatuurlike' wyse droog, hard en styf hou met die oog op 'n meer bevredigende seksuele ervaring vir die man. Baie vroue geniet ook hierdie ervaring. Die mediese wetenskap is veral bekommerd oor die moontlike verband tussen die nadelige repurkussies van die twee praktyke en die vinnige verspreiding van MIVMGS en pleit derhalwe dat daarmee weggedoen word. Die praktiseerders van eersgenoemde praktyk word byvoorbeeld gewaarsku dat dit mag lei tot gevalle van verkragting, anale seks asook kindermishandeling, terwyl laasgenoemde praktyk veral twee hoe risiko-groepe ten opsigte van die VIGSpandemie ten prooi val; die kommersiele sekswerkers in Kwazulu-Natal wat die praktyk gebruik as wapentoerusting, en die land se vragmotorbestuurders wat hierdeur verlei en aangemoedig word. Hierdie vorm van seksuele omgang ondermyn egter nie net kondoomgebruik nie. Studies het bewys dat die gebruik van 'n vaginale uitdrogingsmiddel daartoe kan lei dat die wande van die vagina mag skeur. Beide groepe loop derhalwe nie alleenlik die risiko om 'n seksueeloordraagbare siekte op te doen nie, maar om ook 'n VIGS-slagoffer te word. Terwyl die beperkte effektiwiteit van die twee praktyke deurkam word, poog die verhandeling om deurgaans 'n duidelike ingeboude begrip te handhaaf vir die unieke en eiesoortige karakter van die Zoeloe kultuur. Dit redeneer dat beide groepe, Afrikaboorlinge en Westerlinge, moet probeer verhoed om te polariseer en illustreer dat diverse kultuurgroepe almal, vanuit 'n kultuurhistories perspektief, meerdere of mindere tekens van promiskuiteit en permissiwiteit ten opsigte van seksualiteit toon. Dit spreek vanself dat die twee praktyke ondersoek moet word teen die agtergrond van die Zoeloe's se inheemse kennis met inbegrip van die wyse waarop die menslike fisiologie en anatomie metafories en simbolies verklaar word. Die digotomie wat bestaan tussen inheemse kennis en wetenskap vra dat ons boodskappe gekommunikeer moet word op 'n wyse wat beide gesigspunte konsolideer. Uiteraard kompliseer die stereotipering van geslagsrolle in die Zoeloe bevolking die VIGS-pandemie aansienlik. Dit dra in 'n groot mate daartoe by dat die VIGSpandemie nie suiwer as 'n biomediese probleem manifesteer nie, maar dat ander psigo-sosiale faktore in berekening gebring moet word. Dit werk byvoorbeeld 'n ongebalanseerde magsposisie in die hand wat sommige Zoeloe mans se sielkundige worsteling met hul diepgewortelde, polities geinspireerde woede belig en dui op sommige kontemporere Zoeloe vrouens se toenemende geneigdheid om seks aan te bied in ruil vir geld. Sy doen dit om sodoende haarself van die juk van die Zoeloe man se mag oor haar en haar neerdrukkende sosio-ekonomiese omstandighede te bevry. Die verhandeling beweeg dikwels buite sy grense en fokus nie net bloot op die gedrag van die Zoeloe bevolking nie, maar boorlinge van Afrika in die algemeen. Hierdie oorhoofse Afrika-perspektief vind regverdigingsgronde in die lig van die feit dat boorlinge van Afrika saamgesnoer word deur 'n oorheersende sosio-religieuse filosofie, desnieteenstaande die feit dat daar merkbare verskille voorkom ten opsigte van linguistiek, geografie, religieusheid en ander wat betref hul daaglikse gebruike en omgang.

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