Durban – Although South Africa’s HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign has reached millions of people, some youths still don’t feel safe or comfortable getting tested for HIV and feel left out of national debates about the pandemic.
Fezeka Gxwayibeni, 20, brought this to the attention of delegates at the 5th Aids conference when she talked about the needs of the youth with respect to government’s HCT programme.
Gxwayibeni, who is involved in the Future Fighters Project of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, conducted interviews with three different youth groups about HCT – and found the issue of stigmatisation around HIV still persists.
It’s common for teenagers to be bullied or ostracised if they are infected with HIV. Gxwayibeni said consideration must be given to where testing sites are and schools will not necessarily be the best options.
Peer pressure increases because those who are reluctant to get tested are taunted about possibly being HIV positive or promiscuous.
Visiting public clinics also becomes a problem, as Gxwayibeni said confidentiality was an issue. She said often teenagers who do go to clinics for contraception are “ratted out” to their parents by community members.
Her interaction with the youth groups also showed that parents are still not talking to their children about sex and that children are having sex at a younger age.
In the case of young girls, they have a preference for older partners who are able to buy them things they want. Gxwayibeni told the audience that some young girls sleep with the same men and choose not to use condoms in the hopes they will fall pregnant first. They see their older partners as a way out of poverty.
The youth, according to Gxwayibeni, does fall prey to advertising which often sells sex. She said this contributes to their already fragile self-esteem. She found that come Friday evening, young girls get into their short skirts and look for sexual encounters. These ideas, she said, come from all forms of media where lifestyles which involve alcohol, parties and sex are favoured.
One of her suggestions to government is to use technology to speak to the youth about HCT campaigns. Instead of making announcements at school, which deters the youth from getting tested – they should use SMSes. She said the youth are more likely to get tested when people don’t know about it.
She said the education curriculum, especially Life Orientation, could benefit from a makeover. Gxwayibeni questioned the quality of information that is presented to learners. She feels this is a perfect platform for detailed and concise information about HIV and Aids.
Gxwayibeni said it would be beneficial to have social workers at schools to give the youth a voice.
The wise twenty-year-old called for cycles to be broken – one of them being teenage girls having babies. She also said the youth must take responsibility and start practising self-love and self-respect.
While Gxwayibeni drew attention to the youth, Professor Relebohile Moletsane from the University of KwaZulu-Natal challenged the concept of culture in the age of Aids in South Africa.
Moletsane asked delegates to examine the catch-phrases that South Africans often use, “It’s my culture” and “We should go back to our roots.”
Moletsane said important questions need to be asked about culture: does South Africa have a common culture? What does it look like and who decides what makes culture?
Moletsane argued that sticking to certain cultural practices that were patriarchal in nature was counterproductive.
She warned against using cultural statements liberally in the name of justifying sexist behaviour, which does end up inhibiting HIV and Aids prevention measures. – Kemantha Govender, BuaNews