Seemingly nonexistent on the world map, Swaziland is often transformed into a simple dot at the bottom of Africa, with little local or global acknowledgment. Yet, a “dot” would be an inaccurate representation of Swaziland, instead, the term “stain” would better demonstrate the mark of the gender-based violence that encapsulates this country. These women and girls (and men and boys) are forcibly stained with the severe prevalence of AIDS and HIV. To the extent that “Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world," with an estimated 26% of the entire population infected.
Women and girls are disproportionally vulnerable to the risk of HIV/AIDS because of the strong correlation to violence against women. Rape and sexual violence transform a girl’s body into a commodity for consumption, like a life-size doll crafted for the pleasure of another. HIV/AIDS are physical reminders of the “reality that most ‘women lack control over their bodies and their daily lives, and the tools, resources and support needed to change their situation.’”
But these girls are not dolls that can be played with and then discarded without respect to their humanity. They are not just a statistic as simply numbers plastered on a graph creating an aesthetically organized line that jumps from one point to another. The individual lives that suffer the effects of these infections in Swaziland have personal stories. Organizations, such as Hosea’s Heart, are dedicated to giving these numbers a name.
Hosea’s Heart is a group that provides housing, advocacy and love in assisting girls to escape and rehabilitate from sexual and physical violence. Recently they released a newspaper clipping on their Facebook page that headlines broadcasted, “3 Community Police Gang-Rape Pupil (17)”. When I questioned Mary-Kate Martin, the founder of Hosea’s Heart, she described that “just about every other day there seems to be some sexual abuse/rape report in the newspaper. There is one on the front page again today. The day after that article was posted, another was posted of a man who keeps delaying his court case for another rape...”
In Swaziland, as well as numerous other countries, rape and HIV/AIDS infections is a nightmare that becomes a routine news publication. Martin also states, “The voices of multiple girls we’ve ministered to -- raped abused, vulnerable, forgotten -- echo along… ‘I am nothing.’ ‘I am useless.’ ‘I’d rather die.’ But they survive on Hope.” These voices are not just an echo that should disappear in the darkness that haunts the back of the cave of violence, rape and abuse. It should be an echo that shakes the ground forcing people to stop and listen. An echo that cannot be ignored because it continuously rings with the perseverance of justice. The echo is the advocacy for the humans living in Swaziland coupled with the echo of hope. Acknowledgment and spreading awareness is only the first step.