Nagging wives fuel HIV

A lot of women in Southern Africa have grown up with the idea that one day they will find the perfect husband, a caring man with the economic means to provide for the niceties of contemporary life. And I am not just talking about illiterate women with water buckets on their heads and babies on their backs. I am talking about all African women. Even the educated woman still finds herself living with the societal stigma of being single.

So when Mr Nice knocks on the door, our women folk are under pressure to marry. And when they are married, it is the end of the world for them. They become humble, subservient and stop to speak out. After all, this is what they have grown up believing. They have been to the traditional school of African wisdom where a man should be treated like a small god, a king. Silence by women is sending our sub-continent to the grave.

Forgive me for being blunt, but come to think of it, one of the traditional norms is that after coitus, the wife should say ‘thank you’ to the husband and thereafter she should clean his private parts. This is the message taught to young women at initiation ceremonies and kitchen parties.

Women are taught to out-do each other in order to provide pleasure to the husband, no matter what it takes. In some societies, women are encouraged to provide dry sex, in order to increase the man’s sensation. But dry sex often leads to forced tearing of tissues thereby increasing the chances of STD and HIV infection.

Traditional norms and culture compel wives to stay in the marriage. In Zambia they call it the shipikisha club. Why do African women often times fail to ask for divorce? By failing to stand up to their husbands, wives open themselves to abuse, violence and HIV infection. By refusing to seek divorce, compliant wives become emotional punching bags and a dumping ground for HIV. They die earlier than the husband due to increased levels of stress.

But the other sector is that of the so-called nagging wives. Goodness me, they are like a new species of irritating bugs that threaten to rule the planet, what with global warming. Nagging wives drive their husbands from home. These are wives that exert too much control and pressure on their husbands. They complain of this and that. They yell at everybody at home. They inspect the car to the extent that the poor brother cannot even hide a condom in the bonnet. And when the husband has gone for a week-long workshop, these are the wives that have invented a new scientific method to determine whether or not the husband has kept his marriage vows.

Nagging wives are fuelling a quiet epidemic of early death. They drive their husbands into infidelity and relationships with girl friends and commercial sex workers in the red lights of night clubs. Husbands seeking a peace of mind are easily exposed to the risks of HIV infection.

Husbands are grown-ups that need not blame their infidelity on their wives, right? Right, but we need to confront these issues if we have to win the fight against AIDS. And in confronting HIV, we should seek the truth about wife and husband behaviour in our society. HIV will not go away because of television adverts and condoms. As a matter of fact, most Southern African families shy away from TV adverts about condoms.

So, why is the nagging wife a new breeding ground for HIV? The answer lies in the fact that nagging wives fail to inspire and motivate their husbands towards self-pride and self-esteem. Because the wife is always fault-finding, the husband feels incapable to find self-inspiration to do the right thing on his own volition. Because the wife is always yelling at the husband, the poor brother seems to be running away from himself every time, to escape and find solace elsewhere.

The thing is, any HIV prevention mindset must develop from inside. It must be intrinsic. It cannot be thrust on anybody. Not by adverts, and not by wearing t-shirts during World AIDS Day. The desire to remain HIV negative must be self-motivated. Yet this is the most prized emotional resource nagging wives take away from their husbands: self-motivation.

The new paradigm shift is to grow love and self-motivation. Even the movies, whether it is Forrest Gump or Coach Carter, the idea behind is inspiration. Whether you are listening to the maverick TD Jakes or the philosophical Myles Munroe, the message is to build hope and re-inspire a change of behaviour towards greater levels of self-esteem and achievement. In the fight against HIV/AIDS, self-esteem makes people be proud of themselves, and respect their bodies so that they are not reckless with their lives. Self-esteem inspires the desire for life.

And that’s as it should be. Let us love and care for each other this festive (thirstive?) season. Peace.

Kazhila Chinsembu is a lecturer at the University of Namibia. Email comments to kchinsembu@unam.na

December 2006
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