By Hilary White

TORONTO, August 18, 2006 ( – The 16th annual International AIDS Conference, closing today in Toronto, has repeatedly emphasized that “empowerment” of women is the key to ending AIDS in the African continent. Microsoft multi-billionaire philanthropist, Bill Gates, said at the opening of the conference, “A woman should never need her partner’s permission to save her own life.”

Gates, however, was not referring to abstaining from sexual relations but in having to defer to the man’s decision whether to use a condom. Gates advocated work being done to develop a microbicidal cream that a woman can use before sexual intercourse that some researchers believe might affect the AIDS virus.

Gates reiterated the conference’s mantra that abstinence has not worked since, he says, in many cases, African women have little say in sexual relations. Gates’ wife, Melinda, told delegates, “You have to put the power in the hands of women — that is going to be the way to change this epidemic.”

Canada’s guru of the left, Stephen Lewis, told delegates that African men can never be expected to learn self-control.

Lewis, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy on AIDS in Africa, said, “To change the sexual behaviour of men is a question of generations. Women are dying now.”

Martin Sempa, a leading AIDS activist in Uganda, responded to Lewis’ statement with outrage. He said that such statements on the animalistic character of African men are “bigoted, colonialist and imperialist,” and will do nothing to help African women, families or AIDS victims.

He said Lewis’ feminist doctrines are not going to help, “African women need the feminist movement like a zebra needs a bicycle,” he said.

Sempa condemned Lewis’“outrageous” attack on African men. “The reason we have four million new (AIDS) infections every year is that the internationalist AIDS groups have ruled out African men as animals with no self-control.”

“This is an offence to all men who love their wives and their families and are trying to raise their daughters and are working to provide stability in the midst of great difficulty.”

Sempa said Lewis is speaking without understanding the cultural and religious context of Africans. In fact, many African countries are heavily Christian and have a deeply traditional culture that values marriage and the family. If this essential value system were revived, he said, AIDS and not the African people, would die out.

Statistics from Senegal and Uganda show that women are in fact socially and politically empowered. Sempa said that the myth of rape and African women’s helpless victim status is one created by what he calls the international AIDS industry.

“Where are they getting this?” he said. “They talk as if African women are just waiting around at the airport to be raped. It’s the feminist doctrine. Women are all victims and men are evil.”

“What Lewis and Gates need to give the Africans is not microbicides, not condoms and not feminism. It is what they themselves have enjoyed: a happy, stable, long-term marriage and the hope it brings,” Sempa added.

The Toronto conference’s message that women’s empowerment will lead to a lessening of AIDS in Africa, does not hold up to an examination of the numbers. In those countries where women enjoy the highest levels of education and financial independence and the population is the most urbanized and westernized, the rates of HIV/AIDS are also highest.

The UNFPA, one of the world’s most energetic suppliers of condoms in Africa, reports that Botswana has the highest AIDS rate in the world: 40%. Botswanan women have the highest level of education in Africa and the Botswanan feminist movement is the most advanced in Africa. UNAIDS estimates that fully one-third of Botswana’s sexually-active population between the ages of 15 and 49 (out of a total population of 1.5 million) are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, the highest rate in the world.

Sempa said, “Money and empowerment alone is not the solution. We see poor women, in Uganda, Senegal, Rwanda, who have less HIV, but the decisive factor is not money, but faith and morality.”

Read related coverage:
  AIDS a Glamorous Multi-Billion Dollar Industry – Sufferers Forgotten


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