NAMIBIA Two-thirds of Namibia's young people expect to contract AIDS -- anthropologist

Youthful fatalism “shocking”

It was the fatalistic mantra of Namibian youth that left anthropologist Richard Lee unsettled.
Despite living in the shadow of HIV and AIDS, with one in five Namibians already testing positive for the disease, many young people have unprotected sex with a shrug of their shoulders, getting “cash, cars and cellphones” in exchange for sex.
“The three C's” is a shorthand term for the irresponsibility of youth looking at very immediate short-term gains and ignoring longer-term issues of health and well-being,” said Lee, an anthropologist from the University of Toronto who is giving a lecture at the University of Alberta this evening on the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

In 2003, 60 per cent of Namibian youth said they believed they would become infected within the next 12 months.
“I was surprised how indifferent many young people were to the dangers,” Lee said.
“We're not talking about a little STI (sexual transmitted infection). We're not talking about chlamydia or something like that.
“We're talking about the big one.”
Lee has been doing research in Africa since 1996, trying to find out why AIDS rates continue to climb despite massive efforts by governments and international agencies to spread the message of safe sex.
Lee said, “One of the attitudes of youth is, 'It won't happen to me. I'm too young. We're all going to die. What difference does it make? I can't avoid this. My fate is sealed. If I always think about it, it's really going to make me miserable.' ”

Lee said he doesn't believe the amount of sexual activity is much different between Namibia and Canada, but Namibian youth face HIV rates that are 20 times higher than the HIV rates here.
He said much can be learned from the Ju'hoansi people in Namibia and Botswana who had HIV positive rates 75 to 90 per cent lower than national averages in 2001.
“The key thing about the Ju'hoansi is their high status of women,” Lee said. Coming from a hunting, gathering tradition, women typically produced 70 per cent of the food while men did chores like drawing water, considered women's work in many other African societies.
Young women can veto marriage plans and have confidence in sexual negotiation with men, refusing sex if the men won't use condoms.
That confidence wasn't found among many Namibian women in the capital city's university.

“It's really a question of women's empowerment,” Lee said.
“There is an argument which seems hard to refute that unprotected sex in the era of AIDS, by men insisting on it, is a form of violence against women.”
He said people have been charged with murder for having sex with someone without revealing they are HIV positive.
“The world is so connected. We can't say that that's a problem over there,” Lee said.
“Our common humanity is what should make us concerned about the AIDS issue,” Lee said.

Jodie Sinnema
March 11 2005

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