In South Africa, young women and young women are the first victims of HIV contamination

Abigail is crazy about love. During her pregnancy, her boyfriend became increasingly jealous. He was beaten. Abigail remained. His brother tried to warn him: “This man saw other women. » He didn’t want to hear anything. Then he caught her with a female companion. He forgave. She has another child. Abigail never filed a case of beatings, but she eventually left. “I understand that, if it continues, I will get sick”said the 22-year-old woman.

Shortly after leaving her boyfriend, she pushed the door of Childline, an association that supports young people in the town of Soshanguve, north of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Abigail took a moment to decide. “I’m afraid to judge but here we’re not judging you, because we know most women go through the same thing”, he said as evidence. South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world against women. In 2017, the country had a feminicide rate five times higher than the global average, according to the United Nations.

A year later, Abigail regained her trust and it was she who advised the women in the neighborhood to end the toxic relationships. But the young woman knew she was lucky. Months after she was warned about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, her sister told her she was HIV positive. “That’s when I realized it would be easy to catch him. My sister is a shy person, I don’t believe this will happen to her. »

The fear of judgment

Like many HIV-positive young people, Abigail’s sister did not tell anyone about her condition for fear of judgment as well. However this is far from the isolated case. Every week, more than 1,600 new infections are detected among teenage girls and young women, or one-third of all new infections in South Africa. Between the ages of 15 and 24, they are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than men of the same age.

The staff of the Childline Association, a support association for teenagers, held a brief on the year’s objectives, in Soshanguve, Pretoria, South Africa, July 1, 2022.
Specializing in child protection, Childline groups unite HIV prevention to combat violence against women.  Adolescent girls and young women who are exposed to violence are most susceptible to the virus.

“Many young women become infected after experiencing sexual violence or some form of coercion. And they are the ones who suffer the damage, not the aggressive ones who defile them., analyzes Dr. Nataly Woollett. A psychologist specializing in trauma, she conducts a study on the perspective of health services for HIV-positive youth, and currently works with young pregnant women who are victims of violence. “Nurses don’t respect them, women are accused of being irrational, undisciplined, or immoral”he said.

“In clinics, in general, you’re told that you can only blame yourself, because you have so many partners. What do you expect? Sometimes people will make fun of you when they see the treatment you’re going to, and within for an hour it was known throughout the neighborhood. “, Abigail added. If South Africa is the first center of the world’s HIV epidemic – 7.8 million people are living with the virus – the disease remains taboo, and the brutality of the public care system, saturated, hit the tin -teen more difficult than adults.

“Usually, guys send their girlfriends to try. If it’s negative, it means they are too, ”Melokhule said.

Outcome: in a study published in 2019 in the journal The Lancet HIV, researchers estimate that less than half of HIV-positive young people are on anti-retroviral treatment in South Africa. Yet the country has the largest antiretroviral program in the world. Within the total population, 93% of infected people are aware of their condition, and three-quarters of them have received treatment.

Fear of stigma also prevents young people from sharing their situation with their peers. “When they try to talk, the other will always end the relationship, accuse them of betrayal or blame them for their past sexual activity”, continued Dr. Nataly Woollett. For their part, many young women report the difficulty of getting men to accept condoms: “We have to convince them, they mean we don’t trust them”, said Melokhule. In terms of screening, “Usually, boys send their girlfriends. If negative, that means they are too. ”the young woman continued.

“No no”

Melokhule realized she was in a toxic relationship because of Childline’s ‘No Means No’ program, which educates young women about abuse. “I understand that some things that you think are unacceptable are not. If your boyfriend tells you: “Stop drinking, you’re drinking my money” or he thinks you belong because he gives you money to go out, it’s not normal ”, he said today. At age 20, after a three -year relationship, he left his seven -year partner.

Melokuhle, 20, is supported by the Childline association.  She ended her boyfriend’s toxic relationship with her.  In Soshanguve, Pretoria (South Africa), July 1, 2022.

“Many women don’t understand that they are in a forced relationship; for them, it’s normal. Even in the case of a transactional relationship with an older man. Accepted by families, because he put bread on the table. Usually, it’s not about buying nail polish or going to the hairdresser, it’s much more dramatic. Everyone knows, but nothing is said, silence marks a form of acceptance »details by Nataly Woollett, who highlights the impossibility of talking about sex within families.

Long remaining on the sidelines of the fight against sexually transmitted diseases, the prevention of violence against women is now at the heart of the fight against HIV in South Africa. Specializing in child protection since the late 1990s, Childline is one of the front line associations. Since 2019, she has raised awareness or supported more than 13,000 young women, through workshops ranging from professional support to learning self-defense, including budget management and psychological support. In total, Nacosa, the network of associations of which it is a member, hopes to reach 200,000 young people over the next three years.

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