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2002: HIV/AIDS prevention and sexuality education must change to meet their promise.

The absence of certain subjects in education is compounded by what might be called a series of approaches to such education that have solidified over the years. I will say something about five.

First, until recently, the majority of general population or school-based HIV/AIDS education initiatives have proceeded from the erroneous belief that all of those who educators are trying to reach are HIV-negative. This is a dangerous assumption not only because the majority of individuals simply do not know their sero status but also because, in an increasing number of circumstances (and most certainly within schools throughout Africa), a substantial proportion of both teachers and pupils may be (and may know themselves to be) HIV-positive. The barriers between primary prevention and other forms of prevention are breaking down.

Second, and not unrelated to the above, is the erroneous belief that people with HIV/AIDS are some kind of a problem and not part of the solution to the epidemic. Frightening imagery of the physical effect of HIV/AIDS, together with warnings to young people to avoid those who might pose a "risk" do little to build the kinds of social solidarity central to an effective response. In contexts where relatively few people know their serostatus, this assumption reinforces denial, making the educated "take sides" in a divisive and unnecessary battle against this epidemic.

Third, AIDS education programs are among the relatively few educational programs to date where stigma, discrimination, and human rights are central to prevention work. It is a sad fact that it has taken nearly 20 years for the first World AIDS Campaign to focus on what arguably is the greatest social ill associated with the epidemic: namely, the willingness of people to ostracize, vilify, and reject their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and lovers. HIV/AIDS education needs to get real in addressing these elements of social abuse.

Fourth, until recently our understanding of gender has been relatively superficial in our educational work. It cannot be denied that women, and young women in particular, are systematically disadvantaged in the majority of the world's societies. And true, for many young women, education represents a route out of poverty and away from sexual health risk. Having said this, and as Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta of the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, DC, has pointed out in the last two international HIV/AIDS conferences, we have failed to engage adequately with the manner in which gender systems work to ensure that both women and men are rendered vulnerable to the epidemic: men, through ideologies that encourage them to appear knowledgeable when they are not (for fear of threatening their manhood); women, through ideologies that encourage them to be "innocent" about sex when they need to know.

Fifth, there has been the belief that the messages and approaches that worked early on in the AIDS epidemic will continue to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is now abundantly clear from research with some of the first groups known to be infected (gay men, sex workers, and injecting drug users) that messages and approaches have to be changed over time. Not only are new generations of especially vulnerable people always in the making, but they enter into this world in circumstances very different from those that prevailed early in the epidemic, when any talk of effective treatment was nothing short of a fantasy....

Excerpted from SIECUS Report, Volume 31, Number 1, October/November 2002.

Peter Aggleton, M.Ed., Ph.D.
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Title Annotation:Forty Years of Discovery SIECUS on the HIV/AIDS Pandemic; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States
Author:Aggleton, Peter
Publication:SIECUS Report
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:589
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