Ebola is real. HIV is real. Both viruses consist of two things in common; Ebola has no functional cure. HIV has no operative cure. Fortunately, they can be contained.
Similar to HIV, with the outbreak of Ebola, imperativeness becomes a must on creating awareness that Ebola is not one continent’s dilemma. Ebola is not African disease. Ebola is a worldwide virus. It comes with no division of dark or white skin.
HIV’s first case was detected in a Belgian-Congolese man in 1959,[i] and subsequently causes of its spread surfaced but not until the 80s when HIV came fully into the limelight. HIV prevalent in Africa creates a wide gap between those infected and those non-infected. Not only is the affected carrier ostracized, he is stigmatised including his family. As such, the code of concrete silence and secrecy has become the emblem for those infected. No one brings it up. No one wishes to be disgraced or thrown out of his family caucus.
African women are the most infected and stigmatised. According to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s report: about 50% of African women, living in Africa, are HIV positive[ii]. Sadly, many of them are exposed to the virus when they live with infected husbands and sex partners.
Women are affected by many of the same health conditions as men, but women experience them differently.[iii] Once contaminated by their spouses, their communities overlooked the source and rather confronted the women aggressively accusing them of sexual infidelity and promiscuity. In this aspect, the men that are the premier carriers of the virus are not stigmatised. Nonetheless, women, who are unfortunate to have contracted HIV from these men now victimised.
As predominately patriarchy continent, the place of the African woman is restricted. Patriarchy or traditional Africa?[iv] The idea that women are dependent first on their fathers and then on their spouses… indicates that women are considered jural minors.[v] Those who gain in status are usually engaged in aggressive activities to alter perceptions of others towards them, and as a result, they are likely to experience oppressive anxiety.[vi] Losing domination makes it harder for the African man who has been raised to assume this leadership role. Where his mind is conditioned to see himself superior to the opposite sex, any alteration to that often triggers unexpected adverse reaction. That the African woman is inferior to him in all denomination suited his ego. That ‘thing’ is the name of masculinity: courageous, unbeatable and a bag of pride.
Irrespective of societal background, women’s right to the enjoyment of the highest standard of health must be secured throughout the whole life cycle in equality with men.[vii]
Fear is the greatest weapon that facilitates the rife of stigmatisation. The sudden Ebola epidemic connotes the commencement of gender disparity in Africa. Women and girls will be faced with no choices to decide concerning their state of health, rights to life and access to medical provisions. Most African women and girls in affected nations contracted Ebola via providing tangible assistance to their family members such as spouses, children, relatives and friends. Notwithstanding, these women are susceptible to face up to opposition. Firstly, her gesture of maternal instinct is such as to stay unconquered in the face of everyone avoiding the next person for fear of contamination. Secondly, the African woman may be accused wrongly of being the probable carrier who has brought in the virus to her entire family. This destructive attitude does more harm and impedes sustainable development both in the urban and rural African communities.
Ebola outbreak demands urgent informative awareness of its reality. This can be achieved through governmental networks, media broadcast, online social media and word of mouth. News of misinformation circulates in countries infected. For instance, in Nigeria, uneducated women are the victims of deceptive preventive measures against Ebola. Some are told to take a hot bath five times a day. Others are also encouraged to eat lots of bitter kola (Garcinia Kola) everyday. So far, if these were the cure against Ebola, we would not have had any death.
There is needed for the United Nations to act swiftly, to look into the vulnerability of the African woman to Ebola and to protect her rights from all forms of stigmatisation, prejudice and violence.
[i] The AIDS Institute, ‘Where did HIV come from’, in The AIDS Institute <http://www.theaidsinstitute.org/education/aids-101/where-did-hiv-come-0> [accessed 20 August 2014]
[iii] Center for the Study of Human Rights, ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fourth World Conference on Women: Chapter IV: Strategic Objectives and Actions : Women and Health’, in Women and Human Rights: The Basic Documents, ed. by Paul J. Martin and Lesley Mary Carson (New York: Center for the Study of Human Rights Columbia University, 1996), p. 169.
[iv] Olufemi Taiwo, ‘Feminism and Africa: Reflections on the Poverty of Theory’, in African Women & Feminism: Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood, ed. by Oyèronké Oyewùmi, 1st edn (Asmara: Africa World Press, Inc, 2003), pp. 45-66.
[v] Olufunké Mojubàolu Okome, ‘What Women, Whose Development? A Critical Analysis of Reformist Feminist Evangelism on African Women’, in African Women & Feminism: Relecting on the Politics of Sisterhood, ed. by Oyèronke Oyewùnmi, 1st edn (Asmara: Africa World Press, Inc, 2003), pp. 67-98.
[vi] Jonathan H. Turner and Jan E. Stets, The Sociology of Emotions, 1st edn (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 227.
[vii] Center for the Study of Human Rights, ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fourth World Conference on Women: Chapter IV: Strategic Objectives and Actions : Women and Health’, in Women and Human Rights: The Basic Documents, ed. by Paul J. Martin and Lesley Mary Carson (New York: Center for the Study of Human Rights Columbia University, 1996), p. 169.