Today is World AIDS Day. Among the many articles and commentaries marking this occasion, the New York Times has a particularly urgent feature whose title says it all: “Sex Abuse of Girls is Stubborn Scourge in Africa.”
This heartbreaking article focuses on the pervasive abuse of girls in various African countries. The root causes are many, but at the ugly heart of the problem is one overriding cause articulated plainly by Dr. Rachel Jewkes of the South Africa Medical Research Council: “Dr. Jewkes, of the Medical Research Council, the vast gap between the status of men and boys and that of women and girls explains much of the climate of relative tolerance. “If I had to put my finger on one overriding issue, it would be gender inequality,” she said.”
Given the prevalence of AIDS in Africa, the tragedy of child sex abuse is further compounded by the spread of this dreadful disease among the youngest victims of violence, poverty and oppression.
Today, President Bush said that AIDS “can be defeated” as he issued a statement calling on Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White Care Act for AIDS relief. Indeed, with the massive resources of the United States behind this effort, hundreds of thousands of AIDS victims have more hope today than ever before.
But our work in women’s education here at Trinity reminds us that even after the expenditure of billions of dollars for AIDS relief, the chronic and pervasive oppression of girls and women will defeat the quest for improved lives for millions of people in our world. This is a topic especially close to our work at Trinity, given the ministries of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Africa and around the world. Students and faculty at Trinity have devoted specific attention this fall to the Darfur tragedy, and we might consider expanding this effort in the spring semester with a larger focus on the condition of women and girls throughout the African continent. Beyond talk, we should consider what specific actions we can take to address this great human challenge.