Sunday, May 3, 2015

SWAZILAND: "Circumcise and Conquer" slogan increases risk

Is anyone surprised?

Swazi Observer
March 29, 2015

Soka Uncobe: Circumcision slogan gone wrong?

by Welcome Dlamini
A social and behaviour change communication campaign aimed at encouraging at least 80 percent Swazi adult males to circumcise within a one year period seems to have been misinterpreted by some of those it targeted.

A study by two university lecturers; one from the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the other from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Swaziland, reveals concerns of how the slogan used in the campaign led people to behave in a way that could have put them at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

The campaign’s main aim was HIV prevention, seeing that Swaziland has one of the virus’ highest prevalence rates globally.

The slogan for the campaign was ‘Soka Uncobe’ – which should translate to ‘circumcise and conquer’.

It turns out that this slogan led people into believing that once they had been circumcised, they had conquered HIV/AIDS as well as their sexual partners and, therefore, could sleep around without using protection.

The campaign conducted awareness and advocacy with royalty, traditional leaders, unions, businesses, religious groups, schools, and government to create awareness of and understanding of MC, using interpersonal communications, mass media, especially radio, and educational print materials.

The project was a collaboration between the ministry of health (MOH), Swaziland National AIDS Programme (SNAP), National Emergency Response Council for HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), Population Services international (PSI) and Pulse.

The study by the two lecturers is titled ‘Christians’ Cut: Ecumenical Perspective on Male Circumcision amid Swaziland’s HIV Epidemic’ and it focused on Christian members of the kingdom’s three main church organisations, namely the League of African Churches in Swaziland (LACS), the Council of Swaziland Churches (CSC) and the Swaziland Conference of Churches (SCC).

Part of the study’s focus was on how the Christian religion (given that a majority, about 90% of Swazis are Christian) influences acceptance, rejection or understanding of male medical circumcision (MMC).

A number of those interviewed for the study pointed out to that people participated in circumcision because of the material incentives that were being handed out and the branding of the MMC campaign such as the free literature and gifts distributed at circumcision clinics and NGOs.

They said such gifts and literature “seductively clouded peoples’ own critical examination of the procedure and its effects on gender identities and sexual relations”.

States the study: “One Zionist LACS member noted, ‘some young men are drawn by pull factors such as T-shirts, juice bottles, tracksuits which are distributed as incentives to every male that visits the clinics to circumcise. These material pull factors are branded with the circumcising NGO or clinic, and more widely under the banner Soka Uncobe, which several people across churches saw as unappealing or dangerously inciting male sexual proclivities and broad licences to no longer use contraception.”

Quoting another study on socio-cultural aspects of MMC by Khumalo (2014, page 135), the study notes that there are those who argue that some men misinterpreted the Soka Uncobe slogan to mean once circumcised they had conquered HIV and AIDS or perceived themselves to be sexual conquerors of their partners.

This view, according to the study, was echoed across several church members and was strikingly highlighted by one woman from an SCC church who narrated the following: “I have a younger brother who is 18 and he is circumcised.

Ever since he performed this surgical procedure he has been sleeping around with many girls of his age. His friend partly attributes this behaviour to the manner in which circumcision is promoted in the schools.”

The woman informed the study that her brother’s friend told her that MMC promoters who visited their school would use a metaphor of a bush knife in their illustrations to explain that circumcision also strengthens your manhood.

There is the misconception that the ‘bush knife’ (penis) is sharpened by circumcision, and young men develop insatiable sexual appetite. Such language can be destructive because it dupes young men to think that they are justifiable to sleep around because their ‘bush knives’ are now sharpened,” further states the study.

It further found that the language used by the promoters and the advertisements as well as slogans for circumcision were also persuasive and indirectly manipulative.

“For example, ‘lisoka lisoka ngekusoka’, which implies that you are not a real man unless you are circumcised; and ‘soka uncobe’ which depicts a circumcised man as a conqueror. Some adverts would even state that once you circumcise you become ‘lichawe’- a hero,” study points out. It goes on to add: “For both women and men we spoke to, the branding of the MMC campaign was problematic. It potentially shored up male sexual supremacy and forms of violent masculinity, pointing to the otherwise ambiguous facets of general patriarchy, which in Swaziland endures as part of everyday life and “Swazi Culture.”

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