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Not as simple as ABC: Christian fundamentalisms and HIV and AIDS responses in Africa

HIV and AIDS remains a starkly gendered epidemic in the African region. SubSaharan Africans represent 68% of HIV+ people globally, with an average of 13 women infected for every 10 men. Young African women are up to six times more susceptible to HIV infection than men of the same age, due primarily to social factors such as lower ability to negotiate condom use, high incidence of rape and coerced sex, and transactional sex with older men.

This study explores the agendas, strategies and influence of Christian fundamentalist actors in HIV and AIDS responses in the African region, drawing on interviews with African and international HIV and AIDS and women’s rights activists as well as academic and policy research. It looks in particular at how Christian fundamentalist engagement in the HIV and AIDS sector has supported and strengthened highly moralistic patriarchal discourses around sexuality, gender and sexual practices, and continues to affect practice and policy on HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention. The study also considers the resulting implications for women’s rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights. 

The analysis here urges a need for a more rigorous understanding of the ways in which Christian fundamentalist discourses continue to affect policy and practice on HIV and AIDS and broader discourses relating to gender and sexuality.

It also explores tensions from a human rights and feminist perspective in attempting to tackle a gendered issue such as HIV and AIDS alongside actors that may not share a commitment to equality and the full exercise of rights. The root argument here is not against all faith-based engagement in African HIV and AIDS responses. A call for a blanket rejection of faith-affiliated or based interventions would be both simplistic—since not all religious actors share the same politics—and impractical, given the extent to which religious actors are already engaged, particularly in service delivery and in care and support. Such a position would also be difficult to implement given that African feminists and other progressive activists contend with the social reality that the majority of Africans are religious (Oduah) and identify with the dominant religions of Christianity or Islam, and that, consequently, interventions affiliated with religious bodies or actors are often welcome at community level. 

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