The world premiere of “The Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage” in Nairobi, Kenya yesterday drew a crowd of 131 attendees, plus 39 members of the media. The event was held in a lovely room in the City Centre’s Nairobi Hilton, and was sponsored by The Centre for the Study of Adolescence (CSA) and Population Action International (PAI).
Participants included representatives from Pathfinder International, Men for Gender Equity Now (MEGEN), Kenya’s National AIDS Coordination Council and the film’s stars and director, Nathan Golon.
It was exciting to screen this 12-minute documentary for a Kenyan crowd, since it was filmed here and our Kenyan partners made the project possible. After months of preparation, the big day went off without a hitch!
Rosemarie Muganda-Onyando (Executive Director of CSA) opened the event with information about HIV and women in Kenya. One out of ten married couples in Kenya has an HIV-positive partner. This is not unique to Kenya – in Rwanda and Zambia, an estimated 55-93 percent of new infections occur within marriage or in cohabitating relationships. Additionally, gender-based violence within marriage increases women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.
“This film is important because HIV is a threat against the family,” Rosemarie said. “This onslaught on the family is a direct threat on the economy and society.” She also told the audience that the film raises more questions than answers, but she hoped to stimulate debate on these topics and spur an integrated and comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Andrew Arkutu (a Board Member of Pathfinder International, from Ghana) expressed gratitude for PAI and gave background information about Pathfinder. He then stressed that “national strategies must be based on gender realities… and must address the underlying social and political structures.”
Wendy Turnbull (PAI) finished the opening remarks with background about PAI and appreciation for the organizations and individuals involved in the film.
“The Silent Partner” tells the stories of women from different backgrounds who were infected with HIV in their own homes, in their own beds. The film also features interviews with men on the streets of Nairobi, educators from women’s and men’s groups, a former member of Kenya’s parliament, and a pastor. As the film played, there were tears in people’s eyes.
From “The Silent Partner”:
- One of the women who got HIV from her husband, Judy Atieno, says onscreen that “single women … can choose how to run their life, but not a married woman.”
- “Women in marital union do not bargain for sex, they do not negotiate for sex, and they … trust in their partner,” says Pamela Onduso of Pathfinder Kenya, an expert interviewed in the film. “Sometimes that trust can be misguided.”
- Men at a soccer game explain that a man’s strength is measured by how many women they can “conquer” and that the man is the boss of the family. They say they would not use a condom if their wives asked them to.
“This kind of film could have been made anywhere in the world,” said Suzanne Ehlers (Vice President of International Advocacy at PAI). “These challenges are not unique to Kenya or Africa. … This is only one of the issues related to HIV – there are many more we didn’t address in this film.” She expressed hope that other organizations and individuals would be inspired to address various issues – both those raised by the documentary and ones that it didn’t have time to cover.
One of the stars of the film, Marita Barassa of Women Fighting AIDS in Africa (WOFAK), spoke from the panel as well. “If we can’t talk about sex within marriage, we can’t talk about HIV/AIDS. We are failing [at] communications in our marriages.”
After the screening and panel discussion, there was a lively back and forth with the audience, moderated by Dr. Richard Muga, Former Director of Medical Services (DMS) and Former CEO of the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development (NCAPD).
The feedback was very positive; many people said the film was provocative and informative. Different audience members suggested empowering young girls (“We can save a generation!”), while others thought it would be best to target parents and reach out to men to change social norms. One speaker stimulated discussion by asking (in Swahili), “Is sex in marriage a right or a privilege… or a choice that must be negotiated each time?”
Many members of the audience encouraged reaching as many people as possible with this film, saying it should be shown in schools, churches and offices, as well as in many different languages. (PAI plans to offer translations in Swahili, Spanish and French, to start.)
Pamela Onduso, also spoke on the panel, emphasizing the importance of HIV counseling and testing. “Know your status – even within the context of marriage.”
The institution of marriage cannot be considered a safe haven from HIV infection. The ABC approach must be expanded to include evidence-based prevention and meet the needs of married couples, especially married women. Population Action International supports locally-developed programs that will successfully decrease the number of HIV infections among married men and women. The reality is that everyone, no matter their social, economic or marital status, is at risk of HIV if they don’t have access to the education, services and supplies to protect themselves.
PAI received many commendations and expressions of gratitude for this film and for our work. As Wendy Turnbull said in conclusion, we couldn’t have done this without our wonderful partners.
You can host a screening of “The Silent Partner” too! Just visit www.silentpartnerfilm.com to watch the film, download a discussion guide and more.