The revelation stabbed into her consciousness: she
had never demanded an HIV test before they consummated the relationship
and condom use was never practised. "Mi neva understand nothing about
HIV and AIDS, so we didn't use condoms, so the whole thing was
frightening to me," she said.
Her life became a nightmare as her own HIV status
was confirmed and news of it leaked. People flocked her home and she was
even labelled on the streets as the 'AIDS woman'.
"Sometimes, they will say things mek you hear and
sometimes they say it behind yuh back. People treat people who are
HIV-positive like aliens. I was like a nobody,'' she shared. But as the
community isolated them and her husband's body withered, anger
dissipated and left in its place a resignation to death."Me give up
everything. It didn't make sense to live on. I knew I was going to die,"
She needed a respite from the turbulence, so she
embraced a friend who helped her to emerge from the gloom to acknowledge
the life- affirming side of her. That friendship evolved into a second
marriage. His family and many others decried it; those who knew of her
positive HIV status wouldn't show compassion towards her now.
Her story highlights a global trend: the growing
vulnerability of married women and housewives to the deadly virus. The
Jamaica Aids Report for 2002 confirmed that more housewives (169) than
prostitutes (159) were reported with the illness.
Many women feel that they are in mutually
monogamous sexual relationships rooted in concrete trust. The
institution of marriage is therefore erroneously seen as an insulation
against exposure to HIV. Health minister John Junor echoed this point at
a special HIV Church Service at Swallowfield Chapel recently. ''Many
married women are particularly vulnerable because they often believe
they are safe but the realities have proven otherwise."
The UNFPA State of World Population Report for 2004
unveiled this increasingly worrying trend in countries such as Tanzania
and Cambodia. In Tanzania the rate of infection among sexually active
unmarried women was lower than among 'married, monogamous young women',
while in Cambodia new infections among married women more than
quadrupled from 11% to 46%, disproportionately higher than among
commercial sex workers.
The report advanced a number of reasons for this
trend. In some cultures women are expected to subordinate their interest
to their husbands' demands. Some therefore feel powerless to negotiate
condom use to protect themselves against HIV.
In a relationship where power dynamics are sharply
at play, a woman's financial dependence leaves her with very little
influence in ensuring condom use. Additionally, some sociocultural norms
demand that women be submissive in sexual matters. Broaching condom use
can trigger aggressive behaviour from husbands who think such request is
imbued with a silent message of distrust.
For thirty year-old Garcia, who has been married
for five years, it would be difficult at this stage in her marriage to
introduce condom use.
"For those couples getting married then they can start their
relationship using condoms. But if you have been married for a while it
is difficult to introduce condoms into the relationship as the question
will come up 'why after all this time do you want to use it?' she told
all woman, while admitting that she had not used a condom with her
husband in a long time.
"Part of the problem is that I am allergic to
condoms so I have to go to the doctor most times when I use it," she
explained. "I can't bother with that. I have never had a problem with an
STI or anything like that before. I just hope and pray that things
remain that way. I think about HIV but I have had no reason to be
But, said she, if she had any suspicions that her husband was cheating
then she would stop sexual relations.
"If I suspect cheating then I lock off because a
condom can burst, so until I know for sure, that is it," she said.
She added, however, that at one point they had separated and before they
resumed sexual relations they had gotten tested.
"We had to make sure all was well," she said.
A wise move, according to the Ministry of Health's
Novia Condell, who strongly recommended that women delay sexual
intercourse until a HIV test is done to confirm the status of the
"If women suspect their partners are being unfaithful, a risk assessment
must be done - condom use must be firmly initiated," she said.
At the same time, Hilary Nicholson of Women's Media
Watch suggested that the issue of trust sometimes underpins the decision
of some women not to use condoms. Touching on the topic may load the
male partner's mind with doubt that the woman has violated the
relationship or that she is distrustful of him.
"There is an assumption that when you ask for
condoms, it means that one of the two people is having sex elsewhere.
When she asks for condom use it breaks what is supposed to be a
theoretical trust or it may suggest that she is having sex outside the
marriage which is not acceptable for women," explained Nicholson.
She also explained that financial dependence
creates power imbalances in sexual negotiating power.
"Very often there is unequal sexual negotiating power because she may be
financially dependent on the partner which creates an imbalance of power
relationships when it comes to sex. And this prohibits women from asking
for what is rightfully theirs, " she said.
Also in the quest for long-term security, a woman
may feel pressured to submit to her partner's demands because she fears
he may leave the union. In such a relationship, there isn't a climate
for the woman to assert her demands about how she wants the sexual
experience to proceed.
"There is a gender ideal that requires women by a
certain age to be in a long-term relationship, and that creates an
emotional dependence because she may fear he may leave her.
(Additionally) when a condom is requested by a female, there is research
to show that sometimes the male responds violently," Nicholson stated.
In some cultures, a report by the UNFPA explained,
gender-based violence holds a nexus to HIV AIDS. For instance, in Rwanda
HIV-positive women with infected partner were likely to report sexual
coercion. Similarly, HIV positive married women in Tanzania experienced
higher violence in their relationships.
Marriage is now seen as a major risk for women who
have lower levels of education as in some regions a high proportion of
HIV- positive married women were infected by their husbands, their only
sexual partners, the report indicated.
Joan Grey emphasised that women should break the
culture of submissiveness.
"Demand a condom and if him don't want to use it,
no sex. Fight back. If the husband loves the wife, he will respect her
point of view. Tell him we are protecting ourselves," she argued.