TILL DEATH DO US PART: MARRIAGE, HIV/AIDS AND THE LAW IN ZIMBABWE
Putting HIV/AIDS and marriage into context: What is the problem?
The first AIDS case in Zimbabwe was identified in 1985. While initially HIV/ AIDS was not taken seriously, as its impact began to be felt, many initiatives on prevention, care and mitigation were put in place. Despite all these initiatives, HIV/AIDS continues to take its toll on Zimbabwean society. Statistics consistently point to one reality- the disproportionate effect of HIV/AIDS on women. In many countries, marriage and women’s own fidelity are not enough to protect them against HIV infection. Among young women surveyed in Harare (Zimbabwe), Durban and Soweto (South Africa), 66% reported having one lifetime partner and 79% had abstained from sex at least until the age of 17 (roughly the average age of first sexual encounter in most countries in the world)2. Yet, 40% of the young women were HIV-positive. Many had been infected despite staying faithful to one partner. While husband and wife take vows to remain together till death, married women in Zimbabwe paradoxically are facing death from HIV/AIDS related illness more than any other group. Marriage literally leads them to the grave. The cause of death is rarely cited at funerals. The writer has lost friends, family and relatives to HIV/AIDS.
At funerals, the cause of death is given as “headache”, “liver failure”, “short illness” or even witchcraft. HIV/AIDS brings shame as it is related to sexual activity. The Person living with AIDS (PLWA) is blamed for the infection. This ignores the fact that married women are dying more than any other group from HIV/AIDS.
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