NEW DELHI - The way in which men and boys view themselves can contribute to high alcohol use and risky sexual behaviour, which puts them at a greater risk of contracting HIV, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). Experts at ICRW say it’s critical that India adopt a multi-sectoral approach that addresses the relationship between alcohol and HIV. Societal expectations of men must be an integral component of that approach, they said.
These connections between gender norms, alcohol use and HIV will be explored on Sept. 28-30, during the Second International Conference on Alcohol and HIV at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. ICRW is co-sponsoring the event.
“The conference will highlight existing research, prevention programs and national policies related to alcohol use and risky sexual behavior. But organizers will also seek to identify gaps in intervention research and development around this issue”, said Ravi Verma, ICRW’s regional director and co-chair of the conference.
“There is a dearth of evidence to create programs to reduce the impact of alcohol use on risky sexual practices and violence, both of which are associated with HIV,” Verma said. “These programs ideally focus on shifting norms around what it means to be a man, which tend to promote aggression and sexual exploitation. This is only further aggravated under the influence of alcohol.”
Indeed, recent research by ICRW in nine countries shows a correlation between how men view themselves – especially as it relates to earning an income – and high rates of alcohol consumption. The study, called the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) found that in India, men who perceive themselves to be economically disadvantaged report higher rates of alcohol use than those who say they are not. The study shows that men turn to alcohol when they feel unable to live up to dominant patriarchal expectations to provide for the family and earn a reliable income. These same men also report much higher rates of intimate partner violence and multiple sexual partners, and much lower rates of condom use than those who are not suffering economic hardship.
“In India, it is unlikely that ‘single sector’ approaches alone will effectively combat gender based violence, risky sexual behaviors and other consequences of pervasive alcohol use,” Verma said. “Instead, a cross-section of the community – including families, organizations and alcohol distributors – need to work together to mediate alcohol use and the health risks associated with it.”
ICRW recommends three steps to propel the agenda on gender, HIV and alcohol:
- Key stakeholders must devise a work plan that considers the influence of gender norms and identifies gaps in existing policies and programs
- Invest in more research to build the evidence of the interplay of gender, alcohol consumption and HIV
- Integrate the research evidence into existing programs that can be tested, evaluated and eventually expanded
These recommendations will be further refined and released following the conference. To learn more about or register for the Second Annual Conference on Alcohol and HIV: Insights and Interventions please visit: www.alcoholhivconference2010.org