Where the disease strikes, sexism increases the pain. Disqualification from society, assignment to domestic roles, extreme insecurity, impossibility of treatment: from one epidemic and from one continent to another – and all the way down to us – the consequences vary, but women are always victims. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Science and the Future provides insight into the effects of sexism on women’s health and, by extension, public health.
Ebola in Guinea: Distressed, Healed Women Are Distressed
“My uncle does not even pay attention to me. Whether there are any aids or not, I am not aware of anything. […] Since I am not literate, I am obligated to accept what he tells me. I get nothing“, Testifies to an” exit-healed “name that the Ebola survivors give themselves. Many are the testimonies that match, compiled in a 2021 report by Guinean, German and French researchers.
In southern Guinea, in the city of Gouécké, the resurgence of the Ebola epidemic in February 2021 threw the population back into the first epidemic, in 2014-2016. If all patients have suffered different traumas with physical and psychological consequences, they are for women also economic, with loss of employment or resources and social, with a rejection of communities and a withdrawal in itself. “which has made the situation with cured discharges very uncertain”explains Fanny Attas, who participated in this work.
Subject to the authority of family heads and always kept away from education, they often do not have access to the resources made available to them, the report states. The associations of out of healings, controlled by men, send neither the information nor the help to which they would be entitled. Worse,”it is their responsibility to take care of the orphans of their relatives who have succumbed to the epidemic and whose resources are also possessed by family heads;, ”Says Fanny Attas. “When we serve rice here, it’s war in court. There is not enough to eat for all children”, Testifies an“ exit healer ”, with responsibility for nine orphans. Each “exit-healed” thus provides for two to nine additional children, the researcher specifies.
But women “healed” are more than men “because it is their role to take care of the sick and therefore are more prone to Ebola“, She remarks.
AIDS in Mali: women forced to treat themselves in secret from their men
“53% of people living with HIV by 2020 were women, according to UNAIDS “, begins Bintou Dembélé, founding member of the association to help HIV patients ARCAD-SIDA Mali. And every hour, 25,000 new infections occur in women and girls. “In Mali, 1% of the population is infected with HIV, a much higher proportion among women as it reaches 1.3%. “, she says. ““Women are very vulnerable, subject to a relationship of social, economic and even sexual dominance, because they have very few opportunities to negotiate condoms.” Malian women, who become so much more easily polluted because they therefore have few means to protect themselves without their partner’s approval, have much more to lose than their health.
““Contaminated women are very often accused by the man of bringing the virus into the home and are often rejected for this.”, points out Bintou Dembélé. A belief that is impossible to deny scientifically, as caregivers cannot determine who became ill first. These women are so much the more that they encounter more than men’s circumstances that force them to be tested: during a pregnancy or when their children are affected.
Contaminated women very often have two choices:either they share their status with their husband and risk being rejected, or they treat themselves in secret without their husband’s knowledge “, which is therefore neither discovered nor treated, reveals Bintou Dembélé. It is, of course, this second option that the infected most often choose. While socially understandable, this choice presents major health problems. “The risk is that the wife infects herself again with each notification, as we have no control over the husband’s illness. It can increase the amount of virus (the amount of virus present in the body, editor’s note) despite the treatment, Mrs Dembélé apologizes. This constant re-infection in the presence of treatment is also very risky in terms of public health. “The second risk is to increase the risk of developing a variant that would escape treatment. This can harm the whole world in relation to HIV. “
Gender, a pretext for dominance in all societies
Gender, which is different from biological sex, is a precise concept in the social sciences. It denotes all social relations of dominance as opposed to two socially constructed categories, men and women, explains Nathalie Bajos, a researcher in the social sciences. “There is always dominance of the group of men over women, down to the values or representations associated with them.. If the prism of gender is crucial to take into account, it is because social dominance has “a very strong report on public health practices, ”Explains the researcher. “Gender builds a framework that defines individuals’ opportunities and builds their health desires and practices, including sexual health and prevention. ”
There is a received idea that especially structures these relationships with the dominance of men over women: the idea that men by nature have more sexual needs than women, reports Enquête sur la sexualité en France 2020-2021, co-directed by Nathalie Bajos. Women especially support this idea (75% versus 62% of men) and in all age groups. “This portrayal has a fundamental impact on sexual practice. She explains that women have much more restricted practices than men with whom they resign. “, points out Nathalie Bajos. For her, the acceptance that this fundamental difference exists, indirectly paves the way for other inequalities that continue in society. “It has also been shown that sexuality in more equal societies, such as in Northern Europe, is less marked by dominance and inequality.. “
If women in Europe could sometimes think that they were spared by this dynamic, which is particularly harmful to health, the Covid-19 pandemic has put its foot in the bowl. European women represented 76% of nursing staff, more than 90% of surface technicians, day care workers or teachers and more than 80% of cashiers, and were particularly vulnerable. Also in terms of domestic violence: In France, the first incarceration in 2020 had caused them to explode by 30%.