Engendered socialization, sexuality and the feminization of HIV amongst the Luo of Ngunya sub-location of Ugunja constituency
Three decades since the first incidence of HIV was reported, the epidemic has acquired distinct geographic and population based patterns globally, regionally and nationally within Kenya. The sub-Saharan Africa carries inordinately high level of the global HIV burden. Specifically, Kenya has the third largest population of people living with HIV in the sub – Saharan Africa and the highest national HIV prevalence of any country outside of Southern Africa. The Kenyan epidemic has marked gender disparities, characterized by higher prevalence amongst women at 6.9% compared to men at 4.4 % (NASCOP, 2013). Young women between the ages of 15 and 24 years have been found to be nearly four times more vulnerable to contracting HIV compared to their male counterparts in the same age bracket. Nyanza region of Kenya which is predominantly occupied by the Luo community have consistently posted high levels of HIV prevalence over the years (15%) despite high levels of investments in the HIV response. This research therefore, sought to explore the intersection between the gendered socialization of the Luo community in matters of sexuality in relation to the high prevalence to HIV infection. Ngunya sub – location of Ugunja sub County was picked as the study site. The study employed qualitative methods of data collection, specifically, face to face individual in-depth interviews with men, women and the youth in different and age cohorts. Additionally, key informant interviews were undertaken with aged women and men based on their known capacity as repository of cultural knowledge. The research involved an equal number of women and men from ages 18 and above. The study revealed deep insights that indicated the existence of a parallel and gender distinct socialization processes of the Luo community in Ngunya sub-location. The gender socialization was also found to culminate into discernible differential gender power relations that consistently put women and girls at a disadvantage while placing boys and men on a ‘high pedestal’ on matters of sexual negotiation. The socialization process was found to further create sexual double standards, where the boys and men were egged on to be sexually adventurous and to have multiple sexual partners while the girls were encouraged to remain virgin. It was also revealed that there has been cultural transformation overtime, such that the initial societal controls that regulated sex and sexuality before marriage, during marriage and after death of a spouse has been corrupted over time leading to adoption of ‘sex centered practices’ that reduced options and freedom particularly of women. At the same, time reducing the demand on the men to be responsible providers in the families. All these were seen as predisposing factors exposing women and girls more than men and boys to heightened risks of acquiring HIV infections. Based on the findings, a raft of recommendations have been made, key amongst them being the need to embark on an objective inter-generational cultural dialogue to fish out the cultural corruptions which are fueling the spread of HIV and retain the noble practices which have value and are applicable in the current context of life.