Global Resources

Vulnerability in Masculinities: Straightening Out a Queer Concept in HIV, Gender and Development?

Author: E. Edstrom
Publication Date: Oct 2007
Vulnerability' has become a key concept in drawing linkages between HIV, gender and development. This paper argues, however, that misunderstandings of the term vulnerability have tended to reinforce unhelpful gender stereotypes and have alienated men from engaging in HIV prevention efforts. The paper starts by reflecting on the progress that has been made in efforts to engage men in HIV prevention since the 1980s, and considers where we have gone wrong. It suggests that the failure to take seriously the fact that gender is relational has been a major stumbling block. Instead, the tendency has been to fall back on gender stereotypes of women as innocent and vulnerable and men as 'the threat'. According to this rationale, men's vulnerability to infection by HIV is often seen as a result of their risk-taking behaviours or mobile lifestyles. In the light of these assumptions, rights-based approaches - which are commonly employed to address vulnerability to HIV - become about the rights of vulnerable women who are under threat from irresponsible men. These stereotyped understandings offer little scope for exploring men's vulnerabilities and needs in relation to women's - let alone for their own sake. The paper criticises the polarisation of women's rights against male responsibility, arguing that a rights-based approach should challenge us to treat all people equitably without regard to race, creed or indeed gender.