Q: My husband is the “CHEAT” type who doesn’t care about the type of girl friend he goes to bed with. But on my side he deflowered me and I have never had any other man besides him. I have 2 children for him. How can I protect myself against STIs?
A: Wow! This is a tough question…especially in our traditional African society where the whole focus is on having women remain in their marital homes no matter what happens, whether you’re being beaten to death, getting ready to be infected by STIs or HIV etc.
Now, before anyone thinks of crucifying me, please note:
1) I’m a Christian
2) I love God and will do anything to ensure that each day I live to His glory
3) I’m also a huge ‘respecter’ (is this even a real word?) of the marriage institution.
4) I also believe that marriage should be ‘for better or for worse and till death do you part’ and indeed, people should not start on that journey without being committed to going all the way with that journey.
I could go on and on with my beliefs on this matter, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the peculiar situation this woman finds herself in. I have seen many instances where women are infected by their husbands and indeed only get to know their HIV status when their husband’s status is diagnosed. And yes, I know that some men are also infected by their wives, but the odds are heavily stacked against the women in this. An UNFPA (2005) paper gives some stats:
About 50% of Senegalese women living with HIV had just one risk factor – living in a “monogamous” union.
About 90% of Indian women with HIV, said they were virgins before marriage and had remained faithful to their husbands
More than 30% of women in Mexico who were diagnosed with HIV only discovered their status after their husbands were diagnosed.
75% and 55% of women living with HIV in Thailand and Morocco respectively were infected by their husbands.
Finally, the paper went ahead to say that studies had shown that married women would rather risk being infected by HIV than confront their husband’s infidelity and and ask him to wear a condom. Indeed, only about 26% of women in 2 districts of Uganda said it was acceptable for a married woman to ask a husband to use a condom.
What should she do? There is really a simple ABC to this. 1) Abstain. I really don’t see the husband agreeing to this. 2) Be faithful. If the question is true, then this may not be very helpful. Being faithful to someone who’s not being faithful, does not help. 3) Using a condom. This should really be the rule of the game here, however, in a significant number of these situations that I’m privy to, the men in question would refuse to do this. Take a look at the stats above again. The figures today are not too far behind.
So, what options are available to a woman in this situation? In other climes, infidelity is cause for separation/divorce. We don’t follow this route too often in Africa. I’ve heard of women who would give their husbands condoms when they are travelling to ensure that when they sleep with other women, they play safe. That’s an option. Then there are women who pray that their men realize that they are putting themselves and their families at risk and hope that they use protection when sleeping with other women. That’s another option. Then there’s the option of keeping quiet and being hit with the news that one is HIV positive. The option that we don’t like to consider in this part of the world is that of insisting that hubby uses a condom. Some women have gone down this way and have broken bones and/or broken marriages to show for it.
The options, as I see them are between life and marriage. What would you choose? I’d really love you all to write in and give your thoughts on this matter and maybe, hopefully, we could be helping out this lady. By the way, she’s sent in this question three times and then written in to remind me further. Clearly, she needs help!
I will give one suggestion though, that as we give birth to our own children, we need to teach our children, male and female alike the importance of respect for each other. The males must be thought to respect the opposite sex and understand their responsibility to keep their wives safe from STIs etc. The females should receive education that empowers them to have a voice in issues that concern them and also understand their role in keeping the home disease-free too etc. We must correct the problems we see in the society with our own children. It starts from you and me. If a son knows that his sister is liable to be infected with HIV because her husband plays around, hopefully, he may not want to tow the same route, methinks
Please share your thoughts on what this lady should do.
For more on the UNFPA article, please visit http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2005/english/ch4/chap4_page1.htm
Goodnight, y’all 😀