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Bush vs. Africa's Women

Yifat Susskind is a communications director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. She is the author of a book on US foreign policy and women's human rights and a report on US culpability for violence against women in Iraq, both forthcoming.

Last week George W returned to the US from a swing through some carefully selected African countries. It was a photo-op if nothing else. However, reading a piece "Bush vs. Africa's Women" by Yifat Susskind on counterpunch Bushs' trip had more serious, widespread and troubling consequences:

"President Bush headed home on Thursday from his five-day, five-country tour of Africa. Not since Thanksgiving 2003, when he showed up at the Baghdad Airport with a fake turkey for US troops have we seen such saccharine Presidential photo ops. And most of the media can't get enough. The New York Times describes Bush in Africa as "a little like Santa Claus, a benevolent figure from another land handing out gifts - American foreign aid - and generating smiles wherever he goes."

Among the goodies that Bush offered Africans this week was renewal of his flagship international AIDS initiative, PEPFAR. Named for none other than Bush himself, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is hardly a benevolent gift. Like all US aid, it comes with strings attached. To put it bluntly, Bush's AIDS program prioritizes Christian fundamentalist dogma over African lives.

PEPFAR poses a particular danger to African women, who were a majority of the 1.7 million sub-Saharan Africans infected with HIV last year. With the program set to expire in 2008, Bush made use of images of HIV-positive African babies to demand that federal AIDS policy continue to devote one-third of all AIDS prevention funding to programs that promote abstinence.

This is Bush's ill-conceived "ABC" strategy: "Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms." But abstinence is not a choice for women who are raped or coerced into sex, like the millions of women in the war-zones of Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Congo. Faithfulness is irrelevant for women whose husbands have multiple partners (for African women, marriage is actually a risk factor for contracting HIV). And condoms depend on men's willingness to use them and both partners' willingness to forgo having children. Of course, promoting condoms at least acknowledges a basic fact that the rest of Bush's strategy denies, namely, that people have sex. Maybe that's why Bush considers condoms to be a "last resort" in the fight against AIDS."


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