Violent Men Threaten Health Gains in Kenya

By Barasa, Mildred | Contemporary Review, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Violent Men Threaten Health Gains in Kenya


Barasa, Mildred, Contemporary Review


As Kenya emerges from months of political crises marked by rape and sexual attacks by men, many women in this east African country say they do not have to be caught up in conflict to experience gender violence. For them such violence is a constant presence, often fuelled by the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Ann Auma, a 20-year-old mother of one, is one such woman. Sitting at the offices of Women Fighting Aids in Kenya (WOFAK), an NGO, she stares at her tiny baby of four months-her first. She is here to seek help-she has no income after her husband, the family's sole bread-winner for the last two years, abandoned her recently. 'I have been sick for some time now, and when I was critically ill, the doctor advised me to go for HIV testing, which I did. After testing positive, I was later introduced to antiretroviral (ARV) medicines because my situation was very bad', says Auma, who gets free medicines from a local government clinic.

Auma was married two-and-a-half years ago. Although she would see her husband with other women at times, the last thing the newly-married woman would suspect was that her husband was HIV-positive. 'So when I was told about my status, I did not know how to break the news to him, knowing what kind of person he is', she says. Relaying the doctors' instructions, she told her husband that they could only have sex if he used condoms and that he should get himself tested. 'This was a recipe for chaos in my marriage, and my husband forced me into having unprotected sex even before I had healed. I had big boils in my private parts, had a big swelling on my back which the doctor said was a cancerous growth and I had TB as well'. 'But my husband said it was unheard of for a man to use a condom with his wife-he said condoms are used while having sex with prostitutes and not married women'.

Auma's case is not unique as many Kenyans, especially married men, believe that married couples do not need to use condoms. James Njuguna, a married man says he will never use a condom with his wife. 'I cannot imagine my wife telling me to use a condom with her. Even if she is HIV positive, it means I also have it and we should therefore continue living as usual. Is there a man who can use a condom with his wife for the rest of his life?' he poses. Indeed, a common saying (among men) in Kenya is that, 'one cannot eat a sweet that is wrapped in a paper'-meaning condoms don't give pleasure. At the WOFAK offices, Dorine Odida and Helen Jasianga, both counsellors at the organisation say they struggle with trying to convince men to use condoms with their wives, especially when they may have had unprotected sex. 'Recently we told a man to use a condom because he had inherited his deceased brother's widow (a common African custom), knowing very well that his brother died of AIDS', said Odida. …

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