Media Missteps + Misogyny = Death for Women

By Mary Lou Greenberg

Gender-blind spots in assessing the HIV/AIDS epidemic today are key factors in today’s deadly ignorance about the fastest growing segment of the HIV/AIDS population — women.

The media adds to the misogyny at the risk of women’s health. Reporting in June from New York and Britain are but the latest examples.

British publication says no problem

A June 8, 2008 article in the British newspaper, The Independent announced in its headline that the “threat of world AIDs pandemic among heterosexuals is over.”

But the growing feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic caused overwhelimingly by heterosexual transmission, as described in the series of articles, BLOWBACK HITS WOMEN HARD, in this edition of On The Issues Magazine Online is largely missing.Women are invisible in the Independent reporting. The publication quotes, with little probing,Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO’s department of HIV/AIDS as saying that “it is very unlikely there will be a heterosexual epidemic in other countries [outside of Africa].” (As if Africa doesn’t count!)

On the Issues Magazine edition on HIV-AIDS reported that in the U.S. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women ages 25 to 34, that women represent 27 percent of new cases (a threefold increase since the disease was first identified), and that more than four-fifths of new HIV infections in women result from sex with a husband or primary partner.

A joint release from UNAIDS and WHO after the Independent article appeared criticized the paper for “seriously misleading statements that have led to inferences and conclusions that bear no relation to the highly complex realities of the HIV epidemic.” (An understatement, to say the least.) The correction stated that “worldwide, HIV is still largely driven by heterosexual transmission” and that “heterosexual transmission continues to drive the epidemic among sex workers, their clients, and their clients’ partners, and pointed out that in sub-Saharan Africa almost 60 percent of adults living with HIV were women, 48 percent in the Caribbean.”

The Independent reported the WHO release as the result of “a backlash” for the organization but ignored the criticisms of its reporting. Other media outlets played up the original Independent article, didn’t read the WHO report and ignored the correction altogether.

Even the response by WHO did not go nearly far enough in calling attention to the rapid increase of female infections in the U.S. and other countries, matters that desperately need headlines.

As Dazon Dixon of SisterLove said in the article, In The U.S. AIDS Spreads Rapid-Fire and Crosses the Gender Divide by Molly Ginty in On The Issues Magazine many heterosexual women “don’t take steps to protect themselves because they don’t even know they’re at high risk,” thinking they’re in monogamous heterosexual relationships. Less than a third of U.S. women discuss HIV with their spouse or partner, according to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

New York Magazine Erases Women

Media reports like the article in the June 16 New York Magazine are part of the problem.With a headline “Who Still Dies of AIDS, And Why,” the article by Gary Taubes describes how the HAART cocktail can prolong life so that patients with HIV/AIDS can “live a normal life expectancy,” but that many are still dying.

Unfortunately, New York Magazine also gives scant mention to women – and the biological, political and social inequalities that make women especially vulnerable to heterosexual transmission and more likely to die from AIDS because of late testing and other factors.The article noted only that “women account for almost one in three of total AIDS deaths.” And that was it! Although the stories of some people with HIV-AIDS are included, not a single woman is mentioned.

By all-but-erasing women from the picture, such articles promote dangerous misconceptions about the prevalence of heterosexual transmission.Such erasure contributes to the deaths of thousands of women each year from a preventable and treatable disease.

In today’s world, Silence = Women’s Death. Let me add that media silence due to gender bias and misogyny is intolerable.

Mary Lou Greenberg is associate editor of On The Issues Magazine.


The Café