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Openness combats HIV and Aids in marriages

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Cosmas Bikoti from Group Village Headman Chiothera T/A Kaphuka in Dedza district used to go out to have sexual intercourse with other women outside his matrimonial home everytime the wife showed no interest to honour his conjugal rights.

“As long as I had K200 in my pocket, that was enough to hook a sex worker at a nearby trading centre to satisfy my sexual desires,” recalls Bikoti.

Bikoti is one of the many men and women that have contracted HIV and Aids in an effort to find solutions on marital problems that originate from lack of openness.

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Bikoti, now living positively with HIV, explains that the wife was showing little interest to sleep with him and at times gave lame excuses. This angered him and eventually made him seek sexual pleasures elsewhere.

He states that it was difficult to involve marriage counsellors and relatives as bedroom issues are considered a taboo to discuss outside marriage hence he was forced to spend long hours away from home.

Bikoti’s wife, Loness Dule agrees with the husband that their marriage was on the verge of collapse due to poor communication.

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The couple has been together for 25 years and has four children.

In order to promote openness in marriages and other related matters, the Coalition of Women Living with HIV & Aids (COWLHA) initiated the Stepping Stones programme that encourages spouses to discuss bedroom matters centering on need to satisfy each other.

“The coming of COWLHA in our area has helped me to become a changed person as I have realised that lack of openness was the root cause of our problems,” says Bikoti.

According to Bikoti, the culture of secrecy that surrounds most marriages is contributing to gender based violence that breaks families.

Lodess Ligomeka from Kwendekeza Village, T/A Kaphuka says issues of sex need to be discussed freely inside bedrooms so that spouses can enjoy.

She says, “through the support group, I have been taught the importance of foreplay before having sex opposed to the past when we could just do without wetting each other,”

Adding, “such practices increase the chances of contracting HIV as sores can be made during sexual intercourse due to limited friction.”

Another member Agness Mussa says after

going through Stepping Stones training she now initiates the act with her husband.

“Am able to seduce him through scanty dressing and at times, I tell him point blank that we should make love and we both enjoy something that was difficult to do in the past,” says Mussa.

According to Mussa she no longer suspects her husband that he cheats on her since he is available when needed and she is also readily available when he needs her.

COWLHA has trained groups in the Stepping Stones methodology which is a platform for men and women to discuss in their peer groups on why both men and women behave the way they behave and find collective ways to change the situation with particular reference to gender based violence, HIV and Aids related issues, cultural practices, sexual and reproductive health as well as general human rights issues.

According to Steven Iphani, COWLHA Programmes Manager, one woman and her partner are picked from each COWLHA women’s group in the targeted districts of Dedza and Ntcheu and trained in the methodology with financial support from UN Women

“These trainings are tailored to enable the trainees to grasp the stepping stones methodology at a deeper level and make it possible for them to transfer knowledge and skills to their peers at community level,”Iphani says.

He explains that the trained couples in the methodology are responsible for facilitating community based trainings of support groups as well as community members who are invited to participate in sessions that only use the groups of women living with HIV as an entry point to the communities.

Iphani says community based trainings are held on regular days during which time the groups meet to cover the relevant topics in the Stepping Stones manual.

Male championship of women’s rights issues are also promoted through the trainings.

To promote rights for women living with HIV and Aids, COWLHA has trained paralegals to make it easier for Women Living with HIV and Aids (WLHIV) to entrust cases of violence to them as they will have something in common.

“The paralegals offer pieces of advice on the necessary courses of action to be taken by women that have been abused and facilitate the preferred option by their clients to enable them implement what remedial actions have been taken as well as document the outcomes of the actions.”

According to a World Bank report of 2013, of Malawi’s 16.3 million people, it is estimated that 11 percent of adults aged 15-49 are infected with HIV. Among women aged 15-49, the HIV prevalence rate is 13 percent, while it is eight percent among men in the same age bracket.

As several interventions are being implemented by government and other stakeholders, it is time to promote openness in marriages to avoid extra marital affairs that are contributing to the spread of HIV and Aids and COWLHA is a pacesetter in this.

It is, therefore, evident that in order to effectively respond to HIV and Aids, there is need to deploy innovative ways in HIV prevention and impact mitigation like the Stepping Stones methodology.

HIV has been around for over 25 years yet it is clear that incidence levels are still high in the country.

Methodologies like Stepping Stones are geared towards addressing the root causes of the sexual behaviour of both men and women that directly impact on HIV incidence through practices like multiple and concurrent partnerships.

Hence, delving into discussions on sex and sexuality which are a taboo in Malawian society is one of the engendered ways of closing the taps that lead to high HIV incidence and ensuring that the response to HIV is relevant and effective.

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