Two-thirds of Namibia's young people expect to contract AIDS --
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,”
“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
“It's really a question of women's empowerment,” Lee
“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
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.
March 11 2005