He says from HIV/AIDS workshops and testimonials they conduct, it was clear several women, including the educated ones cannot negotiate for safe sex nor divorce their unfaithful husbands.
“It is unfortunate that women want to please their families and the communities they stay in over their health,” he told Radio VOP. “When it comes to sexual issues women whether educated or not, they would rather stay with an unfaithful men rather than being labelled single or divorced.”
“Women need to be re-oriented to believe that they can still be respected in society even without the Mrs. title. They need to start appreciating that their health is more important than their marital status,” says Hwingiri.
Hwingiri says many men were taking anti-retrovirals (ARVs) without the knowledge of their wives or partners despite calls for couples to get AIDS testing and counselling.
“While we even encourage pregnant women to bring their partners for testing in preparation for the Prevention of Child to Mother transmission, it is clear that men are still not comfortable with getting tested especially with their wives present,” adds Hwingiri. “In 2010 according to our Gweru urban statistics, out of the 2 349 pregnant women who came for testing, only 102 were able to bring their partners,” he explained.
Yet, he says, it is important for men to get tested to avoid infecting their wives or partners, especially during pregnancy.
Gweru urban statistics also reveal that of the 12 835 on anti-retroviral treatment (ART), only 4469 are male adults.
Sister Mavis Ruvengo, one of the nurses at one of the ART centres in Gweru, confirms men generally shun HIV testing, adding that most of those who find courage to test do not bring their partners along even when they have tested positive.
She describes the situation as ‘sad’, saying by the time the women came for testing, they would have already developed full blown Aids.
Rudaviro Ndanga says she received the shock of her life when she tested HIV positive despite being faithful in her 15 year old abusive marriage.
She describes her marriage as a ‘death trap’, saying she never knew what love is as she has suffered from physical abuse and getting the AIDS virus was the last ‘blow’.
“My problems started just a few months after marriage. It was a few months after the birth of our first child that I realised my husband was a womaniser. If I questioned him about his other women, I would be beaten hence to avoid the bashing, I ended up keeping quiet,” she says with tears streaming down her face.
She regrets not having acted early enough, saying she had been under pressure not to leave her husband from relatives.
“My aunt would insist that it was not only me who was facing these marital problems. She said she had been through it herself like any other woman in marriage and she said there was need to endure as divorcing was not an option,” she says.
Rudaviro began frequently fall sick early last year. She was advised to take an HIV test.
“Despite knowing that my husband was unfaithful and did not use protection as evidenced by the many women who came to claim maintenance, being found positive shocked me. The biggest blow was getting to know that my husband had been on ARV’S a year before without even bothering telling me to get tested,” she says.
This story is not only peculiar to Rudaviro but to many women in Zimbabwe who remain in danger of being infected by their partners due to cultural and religious beliefs.
Sibusisiwe Sanya, a member of the Women Coalition Midlands Chapter, noted that it was high time that Ministry of Gender and other Non-governmental Organisations’ sensitise women about the importance of their health.
“We have heard so many sad stories of women who have been faithful to their husbands getting infected. What worries us as a female organisation is that some of these women would have known that their husbands are cheating yet they cannot demand for safe sex due to cultural and religious reasons. Women need to be told that it is better to be unmarried but negative rather than getting trapped in marriages that will eventually result in them getting infected,” she says.