Final Post – HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia – Claire Walker

Life in Ethiopia for a woman is not an easy concept in the first place, but life becomes more unbearable when the epidemic of HIV/AIDS is added to onto that. In 2012, 380 thousand women were living with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia. Due to the incredibly high number of women infected, 170 thousand children have contracted HIV/AIDS through the birthing process and this devastating disease has orphaned 900 thousand children. The spread of HIV/AIDS among women shows a lot about the extreme gender inequality in Ethiopia and is spreading even faster than tuberculosis and malaria put together. The alarming spread of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia cannot be attributed to one single or simple cause but it is the result of many different problems pushed together in an unstable country. When using the feminist theory, you realize that the main factor of the spread of HIV/AIDS is the huge inequality gap between men and women alongside the structural violence that occurs in Ethiopian society.

The feminist theory goes hand in hand with feminism. Feminism is not the idea that woman are better than men and need more rights, which is sadly what many people believe, the feminist theory looks at how gender effects a situation. One of the major questions associated to the Feminist Theory is whether inequality exists specifically because of gender or whether it has a different cause and whether it is household or statewide inequality. Kathy Davis, in her paper on the feminist theory and intersectionality, stated that one of the biggest goals of the feminist theory is studying how gender affects the availability of healthcare and medical research groups (Davis 2008). If a medicine is tested solely on men then there is no way of telling how it will effect the female population once marketed. The feminist theory was built by three major waves of feminism. The first wave was suffrage feminism, followed by the anthropology of women, and lastly the idea that gender and sexuality are not straightforward concepts, like many people believe. The feminist theory does not simply concentrate on the equality of women; it also considers the inequality of gay, lesbian and transgender people. The feminist theory fights the idea of “normalcy” in medicine and society. Davis also talks about the need to reject the idea of normal in medicine and psychiatry. By setting an idea of what normal should be we are perpetuating prejudice against at least one group of people. The Feminist Theory often teams up with other anthropological theories, especially evolutionary and critical medical theories to allow for a broader area of thought.

In pop culture today, one of the most influential voices of feminist theory is the Scottish singer Annie Lenox. Her openness about the feminist theory often reflects the views of feminist anthropologists. Just like every anthropological theory, feminism is not a one size fits all theory. The feminist theory must take into account gender, gender ideals in a specific place, societal standards, sexuality, views of sexuality, and discrimination (Strathern 1987). The feminist theory cannot be applied to America as it can be in Ethiopia or other parts of Africa. The feminist theory cannot be applied to two diseases the same and has a hundred different factors to take into consideration.

The Feminist Theory is the best theory to analyze the spread of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia because the disease is a product of gender inequality. Sexual violence and intimate partner violence allow the spread of HIV/AIDS and then gender inequality limits a woman’s ability to receive treatment. More woman and children die from AIDS compared to men in Ethiopia because more studies have been done on the effects of HIV/AIDS on men than on woman (Kloos 2010). There are already organizations with a base of feminism that are working in Ethiopia to provide available and stable medical care for woman in all parts of the country. Ethiopia is very obviously a patriarchy, most of the time women are not allowed to work outside of the home and a woman’s life is decided by her husband.

Sadly, violence against women is nothing new for Ethiopia; women have been viewed as second-class citizens (if treated like citizens at all) since the beginnings of the church. Women face gender inequality, extreme violence, and even traditions that are physically harmful. In Ethiopia, there is little to no government or civil involvement in tracking violence against women, and even fewer men are actually brought to justice.

Studies by the WHO multi-country study, it was discovered that a terrifying 59% of Ethiopian women experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. When it comes to healthcare, Ethiopia is already one of the lowest because of the extreme poverty with in the country, even in the larger cities healthcare is only a fraction better than the rural areas. The average Ethiopian has little to no access to healthcare. Only 8% of abused women in health seek medical attention after the event and only 15% of Ethiopia woman seek continuous health care in general.

Violence against women, especially domestic abuse, is most commonly seen as the woman’s fault. Even in the judicial system, women are told that they must have disobeyed their husbands for them to be beaten or rape is blamed on a woman’s clothing or attitude. A hospital in Ethiopia, the Adigrat hospital reported that 60% of their rape victims were under the age of eighteen and 90% of the cases were students.

Unfortunately, in developing countries all data is new and somewhat speculative. Many organizations, like Oxfam, are trying to start more official data collection and data records in developing countries. But considering all the information we have about violence against it is incredibly easy to see how more women are getting HIV/AIDS compared to men. If a man with HIV/AIDS abuses or attacks multiple women then most of those women will contract the often-deadly disease. Once contracted there is little to know health care available and no legal justice that will be performed.

Violence against women is not the only cause for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia. It is hard to choose just one or two social causes of the disease. With that in mind, one thing that impacts a lot of people, especially adulterants, is a lack of sexual education and use of protection. A study done in the capital, Addis Ababa, showed that only 24 percent of people use condoms during sex. Condoms will not always stop the spread of HIV/AIDS but it makes it 67 percent less likely to be transmitted to an uninfected partner (Taffa 2002). This study, much like others, probably only included the wealthier parts of the city. When I experienced Addis Ababa, almost half of the city was populated with homeless people (or so our guide told us), if those people are not being counted in studies than that percentage is probably much lower than 24 percent. In a country where HIV/AIDS is ravaging the population there needs to be more education and protection availability to at least slow the spread of such a devastating disease.

One of the largest social determinants of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia is the inequality between the genders. Women in Ethiopia have very few social or economic rights, but one of the main jobs of women, especially in the countryside, is to care for the sick and dying (Bates 2004). The life of women is already very stressful, which lowers the immune system, but putting them directly in the line of infection makes women even more susceptible to HIV/AIDS.

There are also the very obvious reasons for the spread of disease in a third world country. Factors such as lack of clean water and poor nutrition have huge effects on how vulnerable the body is to disease. Most of the Ethiopians with HIV/AIDS are the lower class or homeless population. With no access to sanitation or available health care people will continue to die or get infected by HIV/AIDS. Also when the people do not even have enough for basic necessities such as food and shelter, how are they expected to pay for anti-viral medication? Structural violence is another large factor that affects the spread of HIV/AIDS. The term ‘structural violence’ was coined by Johan Galtung in his 1969 article “Violence, Peace and Peace Research.” It refers to the idea that social structures and institutions harm people, especially minorities, by not providing them with the basic needs to live. It may sound strange to call this process violence, but it is referred to as violence because the social institutions can actually cause physical and psychological pain to people. With that in mind, the government in Ethiopia is made in ways that keep the wealthy rich and the poor in poverty. With laws in place that prevent the poor from moving up economically, it is basically impossible for someone to get to a point where they can seek medical help for HIV/AIDS. For the poorer parts of the world like central Africa, were outbreaks are almost commonplace for the very poor. The structural violence protects the wealthy by allowing them access to the biomedical system while the very poor have barely, if any, access to clean water or reliable medicine. By giving reliable, sanitary health care options. According to Taffa, Only 0.2% of the wealthiest 15% of the Ethiopian population die from the progression of HIV to AIDS. It seems insane that a country’s wealthiest people would allow it’s people to suffer and die this way, at least it seems insane to me, but it is a common thing that happens all over the world.

Despite these horrible facts there may be a brighter future ahead for women in Ethiopia. Women have suddenly started making huge strides forward politically in the past five years. Women have started to take higher political positions. In the UN Women study on female representation in 2015, Ethiopia ranked higher then Australia, France, and even Canada. With these women in positions of power there is the possibility of reform in the future. I have had to deal with sets of government officials on two different occasions (the two adoption processes my family went through). During the first adoption in 2008, I do not remember seeing a female representative, judge, or even messenger. I was told many times that my jeans, a pair of baggy hand-me-downs from my brother, were too revealing for a young women, and many laughed out loud when I said I wanted to become a doctor. My second time dealing with the Ethiopia government in 2012 was completely different. Our judge and messenger were both women who told me to always fight for what I wanted and never to allow someone to push me down. I was praised for not wearing dresses or make up and told to keep my studies up. Despite the horror of female violence that continues to this day, there are women and men in Ethiopia fighting for change. In a country like Ethiopia, those men and women are all you can hope for in terms of change.

In conclusion, Ethiopia’s current social and economic standings make it the perfect environment for HIV/AIDS to thrive and kill thousands of women. The spread of HIV/AIDS is largely based on gender, which is why I used the Feminist Theory to evaluate this disease. In order to slow the spread of this disease the country will need to continue feminist reforms, and continue to allow women to representatives for the female population. Ethiopia has come a long way in this aspect but there is still a lot of work to be done. Ethiopia will also need to break down the walls of current structural violence and allow more economic movement within the country. Lastly, sexual education will need to be taught and reinforced throughout the lives of children and adults, and protection will need to become more readily available to all people. Until these things can happen, HIV/AIDS will continue to spread and kill the women of Ethiopia and orphan its children.

Theory Sources:

Davis, Kathy. “Intersectionality as Buzzword: A Sociology of Science Perspective on What Makes a Feminist Theory Successful.” Sage Journals 9, no. 1 (2008): 67-85. doi:10.1177/1464700108086364.

Strathern, M. “An Awkward Relationship: The Case of Feminism and Anthropology.” Chicago Journals 12, no. 2 (1987): 276-92. Accessed August 19, 2015.

“Statistics.” UNICEF. December 1, 2013. Accessed August 20, 2015.

Other Sources:

Kloos, Helmut, and Z. Zein. “AIDS and Other STDs in Ethiopia: Historical, Social and Epidemiological Aspects.” African Urban Quarterly 6, no. 1 (2010): 36-43. Accessed 2015.

“Women in Politics: 2015.” UN Women. 2015. Accessed August 19, 2015.

Bates, I., C. Fenton, J. Gurber, and D. Lalloo. “Vulnerability to Malaria, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS Infection and Disease. Part II: Determinants Operating at Environmental and Institutional Level.” THE LANCET INFECTIOUS DISEASES 4, no. 6 (2004): 368-75. Accessed August 13, 2015. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(04)01047-3.

Taffa, N., K. Klepp, J. Sundby, and G. Bjune. “Psychosocial Determinants of Sexual Activity and Condom Use Intention among Youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.” SAGE Journals 13 (2002): 714-19. Accessed August 13, 2015. doi:10.1258/095646202760326480.


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