The AIDS pandemic in Africa is devastating the continent. The institution of marriage does not appear to be protecting women – in some countries rates of infection among married women are higher than those among unmarried, sexually active women. Recognising that unequal gender relations are a driving force behind the AIDS pandemic, this article explores the position of local evangelical churches in Africa with respect to gender relations and sex, and the implications for HIV and AIDS. Based on desk and field research carried out by the UK-based NGO Tearfund, the findings indicate that these churches were largely silent on the issue of gender and sex, or were reinforcing traditional values which contribute to HIV infection. In a number of countries, the church seems to have failed to provide leadership to young people, especially young women, facing huge pressure to be sexually active. Strategies for responding are outlined. In some heavily affected countries, married women have higher rates of HIV infection than their unmarried, sexually active peers. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, World AIDS Day 2004. Adhering to the teachings of the Church, we determined to engage more deeply in challenging cultures and traditions which stifle the humanity of women and deprive them of equal rights. We agreed that our greatest challenge is to nurture and equip our children to protect themselves from HIV, so that we can fulfil the vision of building a generation without AIDS. Pastoral Letter from the Primates of the Anglican Communion, 27 May 2003. All the pastors’ wives had never seen a condom as it is seen as a tool for unfaithful wives. NGO worker, Burkina Faso.
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