She is right. Many women contract HIV when they are living a life of dependency, power imbalance and lack of control over their sexuality.
“Most women cannot negotiate for sex. Sex is often a man’s prerogative. That’s why some women know the status of their husband only after their death or when they spot the hidden ARVs,” remarks Donata Muthoni, 41, a peer educator at Mbagathi hospital who is also HIV positive.
The mother of two teenage daughters, who has lived with the disease for a decade now, cites herself as an example, saying that if she was more empowered sexually, she would have taken better care of her sexual health.
For years HIV/ Aids experts have grappled with the reasons behind women’s high susceptibility to HIV infection. A 2008/09 study put women’s prevalence rates as twice as high as that for men, which stands at 4.3 per cent.
While the country’s national average is at 6.1 per cent, that for women stands at eight percent. This disparity is even greater amongst women aged 15-24 who are four times more likely to become infected with HIV than men of the same age.
Does this mean that women are more promiscuous? Nothing could be more misleading.
The truth is that the ‘Abstinence, Being Faithful and using Condoms’ rule rarely works for women. The ABC’s, experts say, oversimplify what should be ongoing approaches in reducing the incidences that make women more vulnerable to the disease.
“Abstinence is not an option for women who are forced or coerced in to sex. And even though a woman is faithful, her partner might not be, and when it comes to condoms, because of power imbalances women, especially in marriages, fail to negotiate for condom use, while female condoms are largely inaccessable, expensive and not user friendly,” comments Dr James Njiru, the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), medical technical advisor.
And that’s not all. Largely intertwined and only recently identified as a risk element in HIV prevalence among women is violence.