Marriage institutions losing value?

HARARE - So the hooker from the street corner could be safer than the dear wife at home?

Unpalatable as it might sound, this is increasingly becoming a fact in Zimbabwe, a country with one of the highest HIV rates in the region.

Long considered a safe haven in this conservative southern African country, marriage is turning out to be an institution straight from hell, experts say.

As HIV hit Zimbabwe hard in the 80s and 90s, campaigners vigorously pushed marriage — as in one woman one wife — as a panacea.

But debate has been raging on whether the marriage institution is still a sanctified institution or has become risky business. Statistics seem to settle the question.

Enjoying a newly found cosmopolitan life thanks to a relatively improved economy, many married Zimbabwean men and women are getting aroused to the “fun” of a fling on the side.

Experts say this is coming with grave results.

Marriage has turned out to be the monster in the house as Zimbabwe battles to combat HIV.

Negotiation, experts say, is the key word.

HIV activists say single men and women are safer than married couples in terms of exposure to HIV because of their bargaining power and they are in a better position to negotiate for safer sex.

According to respected journal Global Fund Observer, the bulk of new infections in Zimbabwe are from marriage institutions.

Local experts concur. They say couples rarely go for HIV/Aids testing and usually try to conceal infidelity by not demanding safe sex in the home.

Mary Sanders, the director of Women and Aids Support Network, attributed the vulnerability of spouses to infidelity and patriarchal systems that affect females.

“It is worse with women in marriage because most of them cannot negotiate for safer sex. Women generally are not in control of their sexuality,” she said.

Sanders said men usually decide on family size and child spacing, putting women at risk of contracting HIV.

Negotiating for safer sex often attracts violence.

“On issues of access to services, married women meet difficulties as they have to ask for money from the husband or ask for permission to visit some health service providers. On violence, they face many forms of violence, from verbal, psychological and physical,” she said.

“Women in marriage are at risk as confirmed by statistics of new infections at antenatal clinics and infections in new born babies,” she said.

But some men say infidelity crosses the gender line, cheekily adding that hookers are safer than housewives because they make it a point to negotiate for safe sex and have no qualms carrying condoms around.

Obert Chigodora, the gender programmes officer for Men’s Forum, Padare/Enkundleni, said singles are less at risk, at times because of the no strings attached affairs.

“In marriage there is a feeling that both parties are faithful and there is trust between the two partners. Hence they do not see the reason for HIV testing , whereas some single people are aware and afraid of the virus and try to ensure there is an HIV test done before they decide on unprotected sex,” Chigodora said.

He said bride price, commonly known as lobola in local language, played a critical role in stifling women when negotiating  for safe sex.

“With the commercialisation of lobola, men view women as property ,” Chigodora said.

He said that mentality and perceptions need to change, emphasising the need  for improved communication between couples.

Some single people interviewed in the capital said condom use was sustainable in relationships because the perception is that the singles group is promiscuous.

The marriage institution is fast losing relevance and is falling apart in Zimbabwe, say experts and judicial officers who have to deal with squabbling couples daily.

The country’s High Courts are swarmed with divorce cases that a top judge last week said courts were chocking.

Opening the judicial year, High Court Judge President George Chiweshe said he was alarmed with the increase in divorce cases. Chiweshe said 519 divorce summons were issued in 2012, an increase of 113 cases from 2011.

This is apart from the unreported cases.

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