Thursday, December 02, 2004

"Because women are economically vulnerable and dependent on men . . . " So explains a woman from Kenya with HIV. She organized a support group for women with HIV and AIDS, according to this article. This is her explanation for what is happening in Africa to women there. The article is written as we learn that half of the population with HIV or AIDS are women.

Her idea of the etiology of HIV/AIDS is important to consider. There are two problems, in her view, an economic one and a social one. Women do not have enough money. They therefore enter into vulnerable and dependent relationships with men to solve that problem. By posing the issue this way, the answers follow: women need more money and they should remain independent of men.

I can think of other women who were economically vulnerable and dependent on men at very significant points in their lives. They did not, however, contract HIV/AIDS. One is Carol, my wife, and another is my mother. We all know women like this. They are, of course, in the Bible too. I think of Ruth and her relationship with Boaz and of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her relationship with Joseph.

You can, of course, distinguish Carol, Juanita, Ruth, and Mary, from the woman in Africa. But that's the point. The distinguishing characteristic is not simply money nor is the solution to have nothing to do with men. An argument that reduces the etiology to money and men leads to political solutions that create their own problems: the substitution of the state for "men" in the power struggle, as if the state will ultimately be more benign, and a refusal to admit that what a person believes makes the essential difference.

We know what makes the difference between this poor African woman and Ruth. "Thy God," Ruth the Moabite said to her mother-in-law, Naomi, "will be my God". "Thy land", the ancient land of Judah where in the best of times the Lord reigned in the hearts of men and women and where he reigned in Boaz' heart, "will be my land."

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