The sex life of Malawian women is not without risks. Marielle van Stiphout reports from a Malawian village.
I take you on a journey to the South of Malawi. Via dirt roads through an landscape of beautiful green tea plantations, we reach a small village. We sit down among a group of forty Malawian women in colorful dresses. But there is one big difference that gives them a completely different outlook on life: they have HIV, we don’t. I listen to their stories. I am amazed at how open they are about their sex life. A small peek into their bedroom: their sex life and their daily struggle with it.
In Malawi HIV/AIDS is stigmatized. A women will be repudiated as soon as her husband finds out she is infected. Even if she got it from him! The woman is often the first to get tested, so it is her fault.
That results in one of two scenarios:
Scenario 1: The husband leaves because you have HIV. And as a result: no more sex.
Scenario 2: Your husband decides if, when and how you have sex. The word ‘no’ is not acceptable. So women are forced to have sex with husbands.
‘Men are rough’
A heated discussion takes place between the men and women present. One of the men says he will find sex with another woman if his wife refuses him. A woman says men are rough. They wake you up and force you to have sex. Even when you are ill. You do not have a choice. If you refuse, this means you slept with someone else. The women also complain they want to make their own choices on having more kids and do not want to be forced by men to procreate. A man confirms it is his role to give his wife children as a sign of fertility. But it is not his role to take care of them, he adds. That is her task. Can you imagine this? Probably not. And these stories are not the exception, they are the rule in Malawi.
Villagers provide solutions
I am impressed with frankness of these women. With the strength with which they speak. And with the work of our partner Development Communications Trust who helps these women to assert their rights. I witness a live training of the Community Club: a group of ten people from the villages itself and chosen democratically by the villagers. This club is getting training about basic rights and will then give training to the villagers on the subject. The training and the solutions come from the villagers itself. That is why this approach works!
During the training the women first of all learn about their rights. For instance that they have the right to decide about having sex or not instead of having to please their husbands. Or the right to decide to have another child instead of being forced to by their husbands. The women feel encouraged. After witnessing some very heated discussions, I say goodbye to them. With the few words of English she knows, one of the women calls out to me: “Maria, I love you, have a good journey!”