Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beware media claims of "increasing circumcision demand"

People need to beware of claims of "increased circumcision demand" in the media. Readers may notice news reports that tell of "men are lining up to be circumcised" in Africa, but such reports may be misleading.

In at least one article by allAfrica (and I've seen many others like it), we're told about how "circumcision demand has shot up." Our attention is brought to the fact that doctors are working non-stop to circumcise the boys and men that line up. One might be lead to believe that this is because the boys or men were actually convinced by the circumcision/HIV propaganda, but closer inspection reveals that the "increase in demand" is actually due to the arrival of the circumcision season where circumcision/HIV promoters have opened up their clinics. In those areas, circumcision is already culturally engrained, and boys and men are expected to undergo circumcision. In short, the "demand" has nothing to do with an interest in HIV prevention, and it isn't actually "increasing" per se, just being diverted to circumcision/HIV "clinics."

If you read the article, the answers the boys give when asked about their motives sound like badly memorized lines. The first thing on their lips is their interest in having sex without condoms, and the fact that their parents made them line up. (We're supposed to believe that the circumcision/HIV programs in Africa are "completely voluntary."  Why, taking advantage of young, impressionable youth is not abusive in the least!) A little nudge and the interest in the HIV "counselling" comes "gushing out." (This is in the journalist's own words, not mine!)

The question is, then, are these boys here for HIV "counselling" and because they actually care about supposedly "reducing their chances" for HIV? Or are they here to cash in on a free circumcision? We hear about men "lining up" in other African countries. But how many of the men were actually convinced by the circumcision/HIV message, and how many were merely seeking an alternative to what would be a harrowing ordeal at a traditional "circumcision school?"

I think it is important for people reading these "reports" to take them in with a grain of salt. We must remember that circumcision isn't a simple walk in the park, like a vaccine; circumcision is radical surgery, which permanently removes part of a person's genitals, and isn't taken lightly by just anyone.

We must remember that circumcision/HIV advocates aren't introducing anything "new" to Africa. In many countries or regions, circumcision is already a cultural norm as a tribal rite of passage, or a requirement of Islam. Circumcision is already widely practiced in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, for example. In countries where circumcision is already normal due to culture, men would be more willing to "line up" for a free circumcision, even if they have to pretend like they care about HIV prevention. Parents of said cultures would not hesitate to submit their male children to be circumcised; they already do. It is misleading to report "an increase in circumcision demand" at circumcision clinics placed where circumcision is already a cultural practice.

Circumcision fails to become a "demand" in countries or cultures that do not practice circumcision. Circumcision/HIV propagandists are having trouble convincing the Luo in Kenya for example, which traditionally do not circumcise, to adopt circumcision. Malawi has refused to adopt circumcision as HIV prevention policy. Despite all the hype, it looks like the Soka Uncobe ("Circumcise and Conquer") campaign in Swaziland isn't having as much of an impact as pro-circumcision American benefactors had hoped. So unsuccessful have efforts been to circumcise the men of Swaziland that laws are now on the table to make circumcision compulsory. (Note the doublethink; circumcision is supposed to be "voluntary," as the term "Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision" (VMMC) indicates.)

So when we hear about "thousands of men lining up to be circumcised," one needs to ask, how many are doing so because the men are indeed interested in circumcision as a way to "reduce the risk of HIV?" How many parents who agree to have their children circumcised actually come from cultures where circumcision is already a social requirement, and the circumcision/HIV propagandists are taking credit for this as a sign of their programs' "success?"

We must remember that the HIV front in Africa is in a very precarious situation. Humanitarian groups that focus on the HIV crisis are running out of money, and donors are bailing out on their pledges to donate to the cause. African governments and humanitarian groups alike have come to depend on aid from benefactors who have come under the circumcision/HIV craze, and use the WHO endorsement to dictate circumcision quotas. In order to keep their donors and benefactors happy, African govenment and humanitarian organizations have to demonstrate that they are conducting "mass circumcision campaigns," and that they are achieving "success."

Is there REALLY an "increased demand" in circumcisions? How many men or parents of boys have actually been convinced by the dubious circumcision/HIV message? Or are governments and humanitarian establishments who depend on pro-circumcision aid taking advantage of the pre-existing circumcising culture to appear "successful?"

1 comment:

  1. This would be a very different world indeed if the mainstream media actually attempted to analyze what's going on. Thanks for your rational look at this issue from every angle Joseph.