Kenya: African Men Urged to Shun Practices That Expose Women to AIDS

Health experts and political figures from five African nations participated in a Commonwealth workshop last week in Nairobi that addressed men's role in stopping the spread of HIV. The conferees urged African men to reject practices such as polygamy, wife-inheritance and female circumcision, saying that they help spread AIDS among women.

"Men's role in the society as initiators of sex is putting them at a greater risk of transmitting HIV," said Patrick Orege, director of Kenya's National AIDS Control Council. Orege called for a review of laws that reinforce a popular notion of conjugal rights, that "once married, a woman should not refuse to have sex with her husband."

"Traditional images of masculinity not [only] encourage men to force sex on unwilling partners, but also reject the use of condoms, and view drinking and drug abuse as a confirmation of manhood," said Joseph Amuzu, a Commonwealth Secretariat's health expert. He asked male family members to help develop more conscientious, accountable and responsible behavior in their relations with women. "Involving men more fully in HIV prevention is essential if rates of HIV transmission are to be reduced," said Amuzu.

"Women are more vulnerable than men due to low education levels and economic status... and availability and affordability of male condoms as opposed to female condoms," Charity Ngilu, Kenya's Health Minister, told the forum, which drew participants from Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda.

According to UNAIDS, more than 58 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in Africa are women.