KC Sidi Sarro meets the women who are re-building their lives after being abused by their partners and families for being HIV positive.
Recently the Kenyan media has been highlighting stories of women beating their errant husbands. In whichever form violence should not be condoned as it is a violation against human rights. Everyone should live in an environment that is free from the threat of violence.
However, the few incidences in Nyeri of females’ violence towards their male partners have been blown out of proportion considering that many women are subjected to violence by their husbands on a daily basis. In normal circumstances men are generally the perpetrators of violence but more often than not these cases are not highlighted – and when they are they are not given the attention they deserve.
According to the UNFPA, gender based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking and several harmful traditional practices. Any one of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars and damage the general health of women and girls, including their reproductive and sexual health. In some instances, gender based violence results in death.
As the HIV epidemic continues, the prevalence in Kenya seems to have stabilized. New infections are on the decline but available evidence shows the rate of new HIV infection is still unacceptably high, estimated at 124,000 new cases each year. This translates to around 0.5% of the Kenyan population – or 1 out of every 200 people – becoming newly infected. In 2010, an estimated 105,000 Kenyan adults (15 – 64 year olds) become infected.
Women account for 57.7% of all adults living with HIV. Among people aged 15 to 49 years, the prevalence among women is about 8.0%; almost twice that of men (4.3%)(KNASP III MID_TERM REVIEW CONSENSUS DOCUMENT).
The growing access to antiretrovrials (ARVs) and the recognition of the potential benefit of knowing your HIV status has prompted more women to access HIV testing services. Mostly this occurs during pregnancy and childbirth through Provider Initiated Testing and Counseling (PITC). PITC is specifically carried out to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. While it has its advantages it has also resulted in discrimination, stigma and violence against women especially from their partners and spouses. With more women accessing HIV services an unprecedented wave of violence has been directed to women.
Caro* is an example of the many women who have been subjected to violence at the hands of their husbands after undergoing PITC and learning of her HIV positive status.
“When I was pregnant with our third child, I went to the hospital. I didn’t know that I was supposed to be tested for AIDS because I delivered the other two at home with the assistance of a birth attendant. The second time I almost died; that is why I decided to go to hospital the third time round.”
At the hospital, Caro was tested and counseled as is the usual case. On finding her status to be positive, she was lost for words with which to disclose the news to her husband. However, she says she took courage and decided to face him. After all she had always been faithful to him.
“Prostitute! You want to kill me!” were the words that answered her disclosure to her husband.
She tried to explain to him of her innocence to no avail. Caro says her husband is a man predisposed to violence and from time to time would physically beat her without provocation but rather to assert his authority. After her disclosure it was a situation of from the frying pan into the fire. Caro’s husband refused to go for testing and began to beat her regularly.
Caro says: “At one time he beat me so badly after which he threw my things outside and chased me away together with my children. I had nowhere to go or no one to turn to. But with time I have managed to survive by doing odd jobs and attending a support group for people living with HIV.”
Eva tested positive during a random health check. One day she was going on with her daily activities when she chanced upon a mobile voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) unit. She says she decided to take the test because she never trusted her husband.
Since finding out her positive status Eva has not told her husband because she is afraid of the consequences. She is on ARVs but takes careful measure to ensure her life saving drugs remain hidden.
“I hide my drugs very well that he can never find them. I put them with the laundry soap in the dirty laundry bucket,” she laughs in spite of herself.
Moraa is a widow living with HIV. Her husband died after passing HIV on to her and she has been living positively ever since. Her smiling face hides the pain she has undergone over the years since her husband died. Her children have turned against her and emotionally abuse her because of her status. They do not provide for their elderly mother who supplements the small income she makes from bead work by providing services as a traditional birth attendant in the vast Kware slums in Rongai.
Her son who is a local religious leader has since vowed to one day kill her if he comes across her while her daughter and daughter-in-law openly stigmatize her in her own husband’s compound.
“The normally remove my clothes from the clothes line when I do my laundry and throw them near the pit where we burn our rubbish. They don’t give me food or even allow my grandchildren to come near me.”
Moraa cries out: “These are my children, the children I gave birth to treating me like this….it really hurts but God sees all.”
Gender based violence whether physical or psychological is a reality that requires involvement from everyone.
We all have a role to play in creating a society free from violence.