This World AIDS Day, Population Action International is exploring a
different side of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, one that many people might not
even realize is an issue – the prevalence of HIV in marriage. Our new
documentary, The Silent Partner: HIV and Marriage,
explores this very issue. It tells the stories of women from different
backgrounds who were infected with HIV in their own homes, in their own
beds, from their own husbands.
Most people believe that if a woman makes it to marriage without
contracting HIV, she is safe. However, the reality can be quite
different. Judy Atieno, one of the women profiled in The Silent Partner,
found out she was HIV-positive while she was pregnant with her fourth
child. She says, “You have to depend on this man for everything — the
husband, he pays the school fees for the kids, he buys food for the
house… you don’t question where he walks, how many women he has
outside – for the sake of these children.”
Current research shows that, increasingly, marriage is not as
protective as previously thought — for men or for women. In Rwanda and
Zambia, for example, an estimated 55-93% of new infections occur within
marriage or in cohabiting relationships. Condom use within marriage is
infrequent, and rates of extramarital partners are higher among men
than women in Africa. As Marita Barrassa, one of the women profiled in The Silent Partner,
tells us, “.. As a woman I cannot tell my husband to use a condom;
that’s just the way I cannot tell my husband not to have sex.”
The institution of marriage cannot be considered a safe haven from
HIV infection. With evidence-based HIV prevention as the foundation,
we must look to integrate sexual and reproductive health and rights
programs as well as broader social and economic policies to improve the
lives of women and their families. Increasing the involvement of men
in reproductive health decision-making, providing couples counseling
and testing for HIV, and enacting and enforcing laws against domestic
violence and rape are good ways to begin.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, we need to recognize
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.
Watch The Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage and learn more at www.silentpartnerfilm.com.
Originally published on RH Reality Check.