Thandiwe said despite the fact that she knew that her husband was promiscuous she did not have the courage to negotiate for safe sex.
“My husband was promiscuous, and the community even identified him as one of the bulls. I knew my husband was promiscuous but I could not move out of the marriage because of stigma attached to divorced women,” said Thandiwe.
“I was also afraid to ask my husband to put on a condom every time we had sex because culturally it is taboo to do that. I knew about the female condom but I had little information about it. I thought the female condom was for prostitutes,” she said. “Even when I became visibly sick I still did not have the courage to go to the local clinic until when it was almost too late.”
Thandiwe said most women were getting infected with the HIV virus because of cultural beliefs.
Her experience motivated her to form a network with other women to discuss about sexual issues and how women can be empowered to negotiate for safe sex.
The network is known as Ngatibatanei and is made out of mainly rural women in rural Nemangwe district in Gokwe.
The aim is to allow women to openly talk about sex and discuss safe sex methods without any cultural stigmatisation.
It is now a known fact that traditional cultures, beliefs and the social role of women and men in Zimbabwe are factors contributing to the rise of HIV/AIDS in some parts of Zimbabwe.
Tsungai Nhorito of the Hopeful Life for Widows and Orphans in Africa, which mainly assists orphans and widowed women because of the HIV/AIDS scourge said, “Rates of HIV/AIDS infections continue to rise in Zimbabwe despite increased efforts to fight the problem.”
She said this was being caused by social and cultural beliefs within the African society which do not allow women to ask their husbands or partners to use condoms or to get tested.
Nhorito said during their outreach programmes, most women, especially in rural areas and farms, admitted that they were afraid to ask their partners to go for HIV testing as the men would accuse them of infidelity.
In interviews carried out by RadioVop in some of the Midlands rural districts, women said it was culturally unacceptable for them to openly talk about sex.
Tsitsi Zvarehwa said, “It is considered improper for a married woman to ask from her husband, who paid lobola for her, to say I will not have sex with you if you do not have a condom or even to suggest that the man wears one,” she said shyly.
Another middle aged woman from Chiundura said, “It would be better and easier if doctors come up with something that we women can use silently. Maybe something that we can just apply to our parts before sex and men would not know that we have applied the substance.”
Another woman, Diana from some farms just outside Gweru, said it was only now after she had received some education on safe sex from one of the Non-governmental Organisations that she was able to gather courage and confidence to talk to her partner about a condom.
“I have not used the female condom but after some education, I now remind my partner to use protection without him getting offended or hurling insults at me.”
HIV/AIDS researchers have argued that culture cannot be ignored in creating effective prevention programmes in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
Primrose Tsuro, an HIV/AIDS activist in Gweru, said it was high time the government in Zimbabwe looked at best ways to tackle the cultural issues that help spread the HIV virus.