But the gaps in the evolution of theory and practice of gender worldwide remain biased for its regard of women as perpetual victims while ignoring their male counterparts.
Though women are perceived of belonging to inferior status in the society, it is equally true not all women are subject to male dominance the same way as not all men subject women to abuse.
However, both groups can be voiceless at times with individual vulnerability dwelling on the age of the victim thus expanding on the current frames of the gender concept as understood by major global gender rights players .
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), for example bluntly equate gender violence to violence against women.
This approach does not only perpetuate the much-fought-against social understanding of blindly asserting gender to biological sex of male against female, but also impedes on the governmental and non-governmental efforts toward fighting the AIDS pandemic.
Moreover, the all-time anti-male feministic approach to understanding gender problems has driven learned communities into becoming culprits in the very gender discrimination they claim to fight.
More important is that the ignored subpopulations, especially the group of abused boys endure the pain in loneliness, secrecy and single-handedly. This situation questions the society’s resolve for justice for it amounts to a virtual entertainment of the vice.
Tanzania AIDS Commission (TACAIDS) recently revealed that HIV infection rate among women is 4 percent higher than among men, signaling higher degree of vulnerability of women to contracting HIV compared to their male peers. It should be born in mind that age has also a part to play in this categorization.
Given the generalized nature of HIV statistics in Tanzania resulting in the lack of gender-age specification in vulnerability to contracting HIV, the danger of HIV prevalence among young males below 18 remains unknown and even hard to guess while the generalized numbers could at least give hint of the infection prevalence among young female members.
The situation is worse with the kids who are abused and get infected with HIV at a tender age. While the society assumes that girls are the most vulnerable and thus they get protected the most, young boys have also fallen prey of child molesters compromising their health and general welfare for exposing them to HIV and other STIs at a tender age.
But this girl and female leaning protection against child and unwanted sex can also be seen as an ingrained and self-cultivating behavior deeply rooted into the societal practices globally. The online publication “Child Psychology: Contemporary Viewpoints” maintains that girls would always be targeted for protection owing to social stereotype that they are more at risk than boys because they belong to a weak sex.
However, while young girls easily fall victims of sexual abuse due to their anatomy, boys may be equally vulnerable for various reasons including their relative freedom of exposure to sexual predation by unruly individuals.
This currently missing gendered consideration to equal vulnerability between girls and boys in contracting the HIV could help the country and its various communities in fighting new HIV infection that is inflicted on the victims through child molestation.
The message can be as simple as urging the society to increase their protection for both boys and girls in the effort to keep them safe from any unwanted sexual attempts that they could be lured or forced into by the perpetrators.
It is therefore to continuously remind the society and law enforcement organs of the duty to protect all children by going beyond the social norms and practices, telling them more about the risk of exposing both girls and boys to potential sexual abuse.
The law enforcement organs could specifically be reminded of Article 19.1 in the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of the Child, to which Tanzania is asinatory, that they should work to protect both categories irrespective of the gender and socially constructed perceived degrees of exposure to risk.
It is also important that the children themselves be imparted with such awareness as part of self-protection, and this approach may prove quite significant as it agrees with today’s norms in social and development practice whereby the inclusion and participation of the target population in making has become paramount.
Although the biological set-up of males and females suggests difference in ability to protect themselves due to muscular composition, yet the physical difference when it comes to strength does not exist at a tender age.
Given the increasing incidents of child abuse in Tanzania’s most HIV affected regions and urban centres as recently reported, the urge to educate the children, the law enforcement and the population at large become not an option but a necessity to cope with the ongoing cultural dynamics that impact on public health interventions.
The society should further be called to even hasten the child protection measures at the family and the community levels so that both boys and girls are offered commensurate protection going beyond the social constructs of ignoring the male side since both genders of the child are currently vulnerable to sexual abuse and possible exposure to HIV as a result.
The recent dangers of increased child abuse as documented in the first ever survey of child rights abuse conducted in Tanzania in 2009 need to be emboldened to help in designing HIV/AIDS intervention in the country’s efforts to improve the living standards of its people.
*Francis Semwaza is a Dar es Salaam-based Development Communication Specialist. For comments: E-mail: [email protected]; Phone: +255 71 646 6 044.