IN THE MURKY WATERS OF HIV THRIVES NIGERIA’s ‘RUNS GIRLS’….Part One (Steve Aborisade)

Young people have the highest prevalence of HIV in the world , more than any other group. To reverse this trend ,  it is important to understand some of the issues that fuel the rise of HIV among young people.  Steve Aborisade, a renowned journalist and HIV/AIDS advocate, gives us an insight in the article below….

They stand out; they always do, flaunting the latest Smartphones, and usually gorgeously dressed on Campuses and off it, across the country. Some ride in the very latest automobiles and usually, as students’ seldom attends classes. Holidays in Dubai, London and elsewhere is a constant feature of their lives. They are so familiar with the architecture of the very top 5-star hotels from constant fun filled weekends observed there. They are classy, and call themselves ‘big girls’. A scroll on their phone reveals numbers of men of power and influence, or of aides to our so called big men acting as pimps.  In government circles, top business events and other A-list social gatherings, they are a constant that must be present on the servings. They maintain registers at top rest-houses, and know when and where the biggest parties are taking place in town. I must not forget to add that other young women admire, and, dutifully aspire to be just like them. Please, enter the Nigeria ‘RUNS GIRLS’ or more appropriately, campus prostitution rings.

 On and off campuses, it has become a fad, and really an accepted pastime, for young girls to date strings of older, richer men. It is also a common thing to find hordes of university undergraduates line the streets of popular red zones at night in search of sexual patrons. At their hostels on campus, you find pimps brandishing photo albums for you to flip through and make a choice. If you indicate interest, the lady of choice is yours for the taking, for the night or as you desire. Not surprising, majority of patrons are usually older, married, wealthy men called sugar daddies. New and growing addition to the list of patrons have come to include: ‘younger men, mostly ‘YAHOO BOYS’ (Nigeria’s growing club of advance fee fraudsters), who’s got the means, as well as white staff of multinationals, away from home and with cash, or young staff of banks, and the telecommunications companies, who are yet to marry and got cash to spend.’ But older, wealthy men remain the trophies.

In Nigeria, the older man with young girlfriend stereotype is an important aspect of the HIV-pandemic. Wait a moment; what can we blame this increasing phenomenon on, Poverty?

The 2011 Statistics on the HIV pandemic in Nigeria shows that young women are much more likely to be HIV-positive than their male counterparts. HIV rates in girls between the ages of 15 and 19 shows a constant percentage increase, more than those of boys of the same age. In the same survey, HIV prevalence among pregnant women of age 15-24 was highest among this group than any other group across the six geopolitical groupings of Nigeria.

It is important that apart from the physiological reasons that make women more susceptible to HIV, research continues to link sugar daddies for the many new HIV infections among young women. Intergenerational (where the man is more than 10 years older than the woman) and age-disparate relationships (where the age difference between the man and woman is more than five years) is now a common thing in our society.

 The likelihoods of unprotected sex

Seen as vital to the fuelling of the HIV-epidemic is result of research which indicated that for every year’s increase in the age difference between the partners, there is a 28% increase in the likelihood of an unprotected sex.

 There are a few reasons for engaging in unsafe sex. First and foremost, the partners usually views one another as being ‘low risk’ as far as HIV was concerned. The older men views the young women as being ‘clean’, perceiving them as being more likely to be free from HIV infection. On the other hand, the young women regarded the older men as ‘safe’ partners, appearing more responsible and less likely to take risks than young men.

Because of the age difference, young women are less likely to negotiate safe sex with an older man. In addition, the larger the economic gap between the partners, the less likely condom will be considered.

A high-risk game

But why are young women playing this high risk game? The obvious explanation for why this is happening is basically and purely financial. Older men are more likely to be employed and are therefore able to offer greater economical security than younger men. So, girls from poor backgrounds see wealthier older men as ‘meal tickets’, providing them with basic needs such as food, housing and clothing.

However, the answer is not that simple. Research shows that, even where women were relatively well-to-do, many still continue to be at risk. It was found that many ladies did not regard a relationship with an older man as a way of meeting their most basic economic needs. The older men were used as ‘recharge’: a source of money that boosted their access to designer clothes, the latest cell phones and trendy automobiles.

A girl riding an expensive car, or was seen on the arm of rich or influential men, or who attended the ‘right’ parties and mixed with the ‘right’ people, scored vital points in the social status game. It boosted young women’s confidence and self-esteem, as they would say, they got the ‘swag’ or ‘swagger’.

A girl that could attract the attention of a wealthy older man, maintain a relationship with him and use him as a passport to the ‘easy life’ was considered as possessing ‘swagger’ by her peers. Little wonder that older sexual partners have colloquial names such as ‘ATM’, ‘Maga’, and ‘Mungu’, ‘Muntula’ etc…..To be continued

P.S. Do you have a HIV/AIDS story you would love to share, or do you know a HIV/AIDS advocate that should be profiled; then  send us a mail at : redribbonadvocate@gmail.com

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