The Feminisation of HIV

The Feminisation of HIV refers to the increasing prevalence of HIV among women worldwide and the ways in which gender discrimination – both social and institutional- contribute to women’s increased vulnerability to HIV infection.

In the Caribbean, women make up 53% of the population living with HIV. And young women between the ages of 15-24 have three to six times higher incidence of HIV than young men the same age range.

High rates of violence against women; poverty and economic dependence on men; early sexual initiation, multiple partners and cultural attitudes regarding relationships and sexual behaviour; and inadequate access to reproductive health services, all contribute to the increasing incidence of HIV among Caribbean women.

Another feature of the feminsation of HIV in the Caribbean is the predominance of women’s role in ‘care’ responsibilities for family members and others in the community who have HIV and AIDS.

This short documentary titled “Invisible: Children living with HIV” by Elspeth Duncan, shows the social, financial and psychological challenges that HIV presents not just for HIV infected mothers but for their children as well.

How can understanding the nature and impact of gender inequality in the Caribbean help us address the feminsation of HIV in our region?

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We have a right to be happy

Nalita Gajadhar works as a Programme Officer at the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Barbados. She is President of the Business and Professional Women’s Club which has been running a crisis hotline and shelter for women and children affected by domestic violence since 1986.  It is the only shelter in Barbados.

CODE RED finally caught up with the Barbadian feminist activist, and with just five minutes to spare before returning to facilitate a Gender Sensitivity Training workshop, she shared her passion for saving and changing lives.

How long have you been working against domestic violence?

About 30 years.

What keeps you going over 30 years? Where does the energy come from?

Because it really does save lives.  It’s about saving lives. It’s about helping people to understand a little more about the issues relating to violence.  It’s about clearing up the myths and the misconceptions. I had seen from a child the impact of domestic violence on family and society. Before there was a shelter or a notion of what a shelter was I grew up in a house where my mother made our home a shelter. Many a night you shared a bed with people in the community who ran from violence. My mother always opened the door to let the woman and the children in and she would stand at the door and face down the man who was racing after the woman.  So it was just something that I have lived. I guess I just continued to do it.  But I don’t do it the same way my mother did.  I do it through the [women’s] groups I have joined and the kind of advocacy that I do.

What are the challenges you face? How have they changed over the last 30 years?

I think at the beginning people were a little bit more compassionate even though they accepted violence as part of the norm.  Once you got them engaged they realised that they needed to do something about it.  It was a task to engage them because violence was seen as the norm. Today it is recognised more as a human right but in terms of getting people to commit the resources it is difficult.  To try to change things we need resources. We have the shelter, we have the advocacy programme but what we need is transitional housing. We need opportunities for people to be able to move away from that place of abuse and not have to deal so much with the economic challenge that sometimes keeps them in that place where they sometimes die. I don’t want people to believe that violence is only limited to people in a certain socio-economic bracket. It is not. But having the ability to move away from it, sometimes when you don’t have that you stay, and sometimes you die.

Looking towards the future, what is your dream for Caribbean women?

What is it that makes you happy? We should not always be fighting to do what our grandparents said to do, what our mothers said to do, what society says we should do. We need to find relationships where there is really love, where there is caring and where you find happiness.  Not sometimes, but all the time.  Even when the person is not with you, you are happy because you have the freedom to just be and to be happy.  If we could just believe that we have a right to be happy. I think that that would be exciting if I could just get Caribbean women to understand that.

Thanks for chatting with us, Nalita.  May a new generation of Caribbean feminists inherit your commitment, passion and energy!

To reach the Business and Professional Women’s Crisis Hotline, to get information on counselling , the shelter and other resources in Barbados for women experiencing intimate partner violence and domestic violence, please call 246-435-8222

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I like some rough and tumble…

I’m not going to lie… or hide the fact. I’m a big girl… a woman that knows her own mind and definitely knows her own wants.

I like some slap and tickle.

I like being tied up. I like tying people up as well.

I am willing to try anything once… if I like it then I’ll try it again.

Remember how I said that I’m a big girl? That’s in age and understanding only… physically, I’m petite… smaller than the average. I am concerned for my safety… 

You must ask if I am willing. I must give my consent

I must be able to say clearly, out loud, “I want this”… or simply “Yes”.

It’s my body to do with as I will. My body, my rules.

If I am afraid… that is not “Yes”,

If I am unable to decide… that is not “Yes”,

If I am silent… that is not “Yes”.

Ask the question. Give me that respect.

Earn my respect.

I am willing to say “Yes”. Give me the chance to do so.

Ren R

 As we come to the end of this series, how about we lay down some rules. How can women ensure their safety during “sex play”? What are some of the things that men and women can do before and during sex to ensure that boundaries are respected? 

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Danielle Boodoo-Fortune is a poet and artist from Trinidad. See more of Danielle’s work at her blogsite

 Today we examine desire. Danielle’s wonderful painting and poetry evoke that fiery, caught-up-in-the-moment feeling we all recognise as sexual desire. Lust. Our definition of effective consent tells us that consent can be verbal or non-verbal. What are some of the actions that signal that consent has been given? Is physical arousal consent? Can our minds and bodies contradict one another? Which one wins out? Can we withdraw our consent once it’s been given? Can a person claim rape if they participated in some form of sexual activity but did not want to take it any further?

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Wrapped is about sexuality and Christianity and the internal battle that is produced by their clash. It is about comfort, self recognition and being valued by your partner. But while the man is bareback, the woman is still fully clothed. It represents choice and comfort with your choice to wait with the knowledge that the one you have chosen is willing to wait on you if you so desire… ~Marielle Barrow

Marielle Barrow is a Trinidadian artist, scholar and  Founder / Managing Editor of Caribbean Intransit : A Caribbean Arts Journal.

 I really like this piece by Marielle. Apart from being a beautiful artwork, it says so much about a woman making her own choice about her sexuality and her partner respecting that choice and not trying to coerce her into doing something she doesn’t feel ready to do. How can couples who have different views on sex, and are at different levels of readiness to engage in sex, figure out how to maintain a successful relationship?

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I’m submissive and I love it.

Hi Simone,

You know, I really didn’t think about it prior to your request but now I see how I am so opposite to your topic. As a woman in the construction industry I spent many many years aggressively showing / proving my worth. I think that also manifested itself in the bedroom with me acting very dominant. Over those years I struggled to foster a happy relationship as they were all power struggles. As I have aged, mellowed and become much more comfortable with myself and my femininity I have found that I am most content playing the ‘traditional’ role of the woman in a relationship. I’m submissive and he takes control of most if not everything. And I love it. My partner has known me all of my adult life and says he sees a marked change in me. I think one of the reasons our relationship thrives is he knew me back then, respects where I have come from, recognises my strength and still sees me as his ‘little princess’ in need of protection and gentle care. 🙂 My desire and ability to submit to him is based on a foundation of mutual respect. 


 So weigh in on this. Are male/female relationships happier when parties practice “traditional” masculine and feminine roles? Is T.K giving up her right to consent? Can one be submissive and still give consent? Do expectations about the roles of men and women make it difficult for women who are more assertive to have happy relationships?

 Graphic by Lynette Leid

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Submission and Dominance: This depicts where submission and dominance are both acceptable within the realm of sexual pleasure, where the woman is laying unresisting in the lap of her partner, who freely dominates her.  It is consensual, and it is being enjoyed by both parties. ~ Portia Subran

See more from Portia Here 

 Ok, now don’t be shy. Let’s hear your views. Do you agree with Portia that submission and dominance can be consensual? Is there a difference between “submissive” and “submission”? Is “unresisting” always an indication of consent? How can you know the difference? 


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Consent or Compliance? The slippery slope.

Sex is a messy affair. And I’m not just referring to the interlocking of body parts and the exchange of fluids. The ethics of sexual relations, the dos and don’ts of intercourse and everything that leads up to it, are areas of contention despite our bravest attempts to demystify them.

Take, for example, consent, that great determiner between a perfectly legitimate encounter and an abusive one. The first part of the word’s definition seems simple enough – permission, approval or agreement. But then we come up against compliance and the long slide down the slippery slope begins. To comply, you see, is to yield from a position of weakness. Can a sexual encounter be deemed appropriate even though one party complies?

Compliance, it seems, is the grey area – that part of the spectrum that lies between fully consensual sex and rape. The messiness starts here.

And for me, here is where the crux of the matter lies, not at consent but at the delicate balance of power that starts to tip at the point of compliance.

Sex, like any other human interaction, is shaped by the dynamics of power, perceived and real. The direction it takes depends primarily on the way both parties view themselves in relation to the other. And when one party sees itself as dominant or seeks to achieve dominance, abuse becomes a very real possibility. 

 Think about it: the boss who coerces an employee into a late-  night private meeting; the teacher who fondles a young  student; the husband who claims that his wife’s flesh is his  to do with as he pleases. What is the determining factor? Is  it the issue of consent? The employee might say ‘yes’ or ‘ok’  or whatever the catch phrase is, as might the child and  wife. But does that justify an encounter where one party  asserts and practices dominance over the other?

 I don’t think so. I believe that the human body, like the soul that it houses, is sacred, and that any attempt to dominate another human being is an act of violence, of terrorism.

Some might argue that when it comes to gender relations, the dominance of one and consequent subjugation of the other is the only way to go.  After all, society places men and women in different roles. It seems to be the natural order of things. But is it? We know of the existence of matrilineal societies, are they ‘unnatural’? By whose standards?  And even though men and women have played different roles traditionally, can we presuppose that one is beneath the other? What about the concept of partnership?

Partners may hold different functional roles, but equal standing is implied. When viewed through that prism, abuse of any kind becomes an anomaly. And sex, the messy affair, takes on a beauty all its own.

Ruth Osman, a Guyanese writer and musician, resides in Trinidad and Tobago. She has a husband and two house plants.You can find her at:

 So let’s hear from you. Does saying “yes” or giving-in to sex always indicate effective consent? What are some of the reasons why a woman might comply with sexual advances when she really doesn’t want to. Does society set up the sexual roles of men and women as dominant and submissive? What kind of effect might this have on women emotionally, psychologically, physically, sexually?

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Cuddle After

Cuddle After: This image is fundamentally illustrating the dynamics of the after-intercourse relations.  Both parties have remained to take part in each others’ company rather than leaving immediately.  This is more of a “there is love involved in this sexual relationship”, and thus leads the viewer to understand that it is consensual. ~ Portia Subran 

Learn more about Portia Here

 Ah, love. Basking in the afterglow. Do people in love ever consent to sex even when they’re not in the mood? How do you tell your partner that you want to try something new or that you really really really hate doing that thing that they really really like doing? Do women really know how to initiate these types of conversations?

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“You’re on your own, sister. Figure it out!”

by Samantha Campbell

Consent is one of those simple-looking words that give many of us pause when asked to describe it. It seems an explanation should simply roll off the tongue but as I learned over the years, you can’t fit ‘consent’ and ‘sex’ into one tidy box.

When asked to write this piece, my mind raced back to the 11 year old girl who was alledgedly gang raped last year by at least 18 boys and men in a tiny Texas town. The girl’s neighbour horrified many by telling reporters that she was often seen unsupervised, wearing   makeup and provocative clothing, as if to suggest that she had it coming, never mind she was too young, in the eyes of the law, to agree to such acts.

Such half-baked rationalisations are shameful and far too common in sexual assualt cases, where some victims are hastily judged to be sending out the wrong signals or worse yet simply dismissed as sluts. For the record, no girl asks to be raped or otherwise assaulted. PERIOD. But this idea of sending right and wrong signals got me thinking. If consent is not often verbalised, how can we ever be sure that our partners were willing participants? 

I’m guessing this amibiguity leaves some women and men, maybe, ill-prepared for the next step. Maybe, I’m reaching but I’m reminded of stories where women intitally thought they were okay with having sex, didn’t necessarily give consent, didn’t necessarily offer any objection but felt crappy afterwards, sometimes even believing they were taken advantage of. How much of that is because we assign different roles for boys and girls in relationships?

On one side, boys are told  to ‘be the man’, ‘make it happen’ but our girls are fed the confounding drawl of “you’ll KNOW when it’s time, which I’ll bet translates in the head of a 12 year old girl to “You’re on your own, sister. Figure it out!”. And in many ways they are on their own, when at 12, 13, 14, 15, they make (or are forced to make) the decision to ‘go all the way’.

I often wonder how many teenage pregnancies were the result of girls actually saying YES to sex or girls not thinking or knowing they could say NO. It’s a scary thought that seems to get lost in our oversexed, underprepared definition of today’s youth. But I fear, very little will change if we continue to tell our young boys to ‘take the lead’ and our young girls to ‘follow the leader’.

 So lets hear from you. Do you think that we give boys and girls different messages with regard to sex? Are boys told to “make it happen” while girls are given vague messages about “knowing the right time”? What makes it difficult for girls to say “NO”? Why do half of Caribbean teen girls who’ve had sex report that their first sex was forced or somewhat forced?

Graphic by Lynette Leid   

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