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Plea For Help For African Women
July 23, 2002

"Two parents can't raise a child any more than one. You need a whole community -everybody- to raise a child." —Toni Morrison


This an excerpt from a letter to the editor in the June 21, 2002 edition of USA Today, written by Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World YWCA, based in Geneva:

"Six years ago, my bright, beautiful 26-year-old cousin died of HIV/AIDS, which already had killed her husband. No one would admit the nature of her illness, and she didn't seek treatment. Everyone was too embarrassed to speak of it.

"Sadly, her case is not unusual. Not only are women and girls now infected by the global AIDS epidemic in greater numbers than men and boys, but the social and economic status of women and girls creates conditions that fuel the spread of this deadly disease and could foil its ultimate defeat....In my own country, Kenya, statistics estimate that one out of five young people ages 15-19 have been infected, most of them female secondary-school students.

"Women are vulnerable because they lack economic and social power. The economic dependence of young women and girls on men leaves them unable to extricate themselves from relationships that may expose them to HIV. Even in marriage, they lack the power to resist unsafe sex....

"African women and girls also face dangerous, deep-rooted myths about AIDS. A tragic surge in rape of baby girls stems from the belief that sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS. Cultural practices such as female circumcision and early marriage also put them at risk.

"As grim as this seems, education and leadership can make a difference. Those of us working with African women have begun to see slow but steady change, as , for example, teenage girls learn about their reproductive rights and women get up-to-date information on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"World YWCA's long-term strategies are to improve underlying cultural and social structures, promote mutual respect between men and women and equal access to education, job opportunities and health care. Through economic empowerment, women and girls will gain control over all aspects of their lives.

"Our goal is to help African women help themselves. To US women, I ask: Shouldn't that be your goal, also? You have achieved so much. Now lend your moral, political, and financial support to your African sisters in their long journey toward equalilty and dignity."

Note: To learn more about World YWCA go to www.worldywca.org.

The AIDS epidemic was a topic addressed at the 2002 World Forum in Auckland, New Zealand. A paper presented in Auckland by Barnabas Otaala from Namibia, "Children Affected and Infected by HIV/AIDS in Africa" can be found in the World Forum section of the web site: www.ChildCareExchange.com.


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