IN THE MURKY WATERS OF HIV THRIVES THE NIGERIAN ‘ARISTOS’ OR ‘RUNS GIRLS’..-
By: Steve Aborisade
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, 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 Nigerian ‘ARISTOS’ or, as other call them ‘RUNS GIRLS’.
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 surprisingly, majority of patrons are usually older, married, wealthy men called sugar daddies.
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) are 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.
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.
Ring of Prostitution
In a more daring display of desperacy, several other girls have found themselves going into full time prostitution. While some are tricked into it, others have had to actually save money to make it to Europe, believed to offer better returns, only to be turned into sex slaves in most cases. For many of these girls, reports are rife of the challenges they encounter aside the risk of HIV/AIDS.
But what is really responsible for the increase in this occurrence? We leaned, it is due more to the changing social and economic conditions. In contrast to previous generations of black women, these young women viewed themselves as active decision-makers and modern, empowered women, able to extract financial and material resources from older men in exchange for sex. Importantly, reference was made to the fact that society has not really frowned at this practice..
The desire for ‘fresh blood and access to variety'
Interestingly, it is not only the women who derive benefits from age-disparate and intergenerational relationships, as well as from prostitution. The ease of availability and access, the expectation of better and daring performances and the belief that older men can be sexually rejuvenated (or having 'his blood refreshed' by a younger woman, all contribute to men seeking younger alliances, including of professional prostitutes. And since money or gifts (such as designer clothes, cell phones and other trappings of luxury) are a very important aspect of the relationship, the older men view the relationship as purely transactional - hence the low rates of safer sexual practices.
However, age-disparate sex is not only a 'modern' economic phenomenon, driven by young women's desire for luxuries and a particular lifestyle. Studies show that age-disparate and intergenerational relationships are strongly rooted in some of our cultural beliefs. On the one hand, men are expected to redistribute wealth according to their economic means - the wealthy chief or headman looking after his people, paying large bride wealth transfers for a number of women enhances his standing. On the other hand, the norm prescribes that it is okay for women to receive material compensation for sexual favours, as a validation of their worth, and a sign of a partner's love and commitment. ‘Doing sex for free', is heavily frowned upon, while young women have been culturally conditioned to view their sexuality as a valuable resource, to be used to satisfy the primarily male need for sex and as a means to meeting their own material desires.
The protection of self-worth and knowledge
The women in such relationships do not view themselves as victims, which explains why HIV-prevention programmes aimed at tackling poor, desperate, ‘women-as-victim' stereotypes has not worked. While there are certainly many young women driven to age-disparate relationships to meet subsistence needs such as bread and school fees, there are many better-off young women who seek out sugar daddies to meet a need for designer handbags and a glamorous lifestyle.
The clock is however tickling, as more and more young women fall victim, to a disease of pleasure.
Story developed from a research abstract by Professor Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala