Those living in the Republic of South Africa have the highest percentage affected by AIDS than any other country, according to a UNAIDS 2012 report. An estimated 5.6 million people were affected by this disease since 2012 and 270,190 were reported dead that same year. Women are unfortunately at a higher risk of HIV and AIDS due to their biological structure. AIDS remains a greater challenge in countries like South Africa, where many women are also unable to negotiate using a condom and are forced into unprotected sex. Furthermore, sex trafficking and sex workers are huge problems in this region, accounting for almost 20 percent of the AIDS epidemic. This widespread issue of AIDS in South Africa points to the deeper problem of sexual and gender injustice that exists in the region.
There are many reasons why the AIDS epidemic is so prevalent in South Africa. Polygamous relationships and multiple partners are key factors to HIV transmission in this region. In addition, extreme poverty, unemployment, the low status of women, sexual violence, political and social instability contribute to the problem.
One of the groups that are most vulnerable to AIDS is sex workers. There are an estimated 19.8 percent of AIDS related diseases that come from this kind of transactional sex. Often times, women and children are forced into the sex industry. In fact, South Africa is ranked as one of the worst countries in Africa where human trafficking exists, with an estimated 100,000 people trafficked annually. Forced labor, sexual exploitation, and the devaluation of women and girls lead to the immense amount of human trafficking. In addition, some parents even sell their children for sex in order to make ends meet. The AIDS that is contracted as a result is a sexual injustice that exists within South Africa.
Police abuse also adds to the AIDS epidemic in South African sex workers. A report released by the Women’s Legal Center on Aug. 22, 2012 stated that the police in South Africa are the main violators of these sex workers’ rights. These women in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, and Limpopo spoke out against the high level of police corruption that existed in their region.
A study was conducted in which 308 sex workers were interviewed, and a shocking 70 percent stated that they had experienced police abuse. In fact, when these women were arrested, they were often sexually assaulted as well. A woman from Cape Town recalled her story, stating that she was approached by police and told that they were going to take her to the police station. She got into the van, but the officers took her into a back street and demanded sexual favors from her. Another sex worker was spoken to in a condemning manner, then forced into oral sex and raped by multiple officers.
In addition to the abuse and the AIDS found in sex workers, gender violence and inequality remains a significant problem in South Africa and perpetrates the exploitation of women. According to the South African Medical Research Council, more than 25 percent of men reported raping a woman in their lifetime in a survey conducted. Furthermore, 40 percent of men said they were physically violent to their intimate partners. Women who have been raped have a high probability of contracting AIDS due to the prevalence of HIV found in the men that were surveyed. Women who were subject to violence and unable to negotiate the use of a condom were forced into unprotected sex. According to a 2011 UNAIDS report, HIV could have been prevented in one in seven women if their partner did not display violence.
Human trafficking and gender violence are significant factors to the AIDS epidemic. The sexual discrimination that exists in the region magnifies AIDS in South Africa, as women are unjustly forced into unprotected sex.
By Joyce Chu