Reviews & Profiles
Is infidelity just another norm?
Posted Wednesday, February 27 2013 at 00:00
There is uproar over the billboards that encourage unfaithful partners to use condoms. But, shouldn’t we honestly talk about infidelity seeing that it is the main cause of HIV infections among married people?
Let us cut back the veil of pretence, shall we? It is official; infidelity is an accepted part of our society.
It is a strand deeply bedded in the fabric of our behaviour, almost to a level where it defines us. And regardless of the disapproval of its morality or lack of, the evidence when you look around you is that infidelity is the norm, and faithfulness is the exception.
There was probably no better way to come to terms with this fact than when the Aids Health Care Foundation went on an awareness campaign, encouraging cheating spouses to use condoms, whenever they went out abusing their vows. The advert, posted on billboards around Kampala, had an image of a red heart, shattered and broken into two, a well-known symbol of broken trust in a relationship. On top, were the words, “Cheating? Use a condom,” while at the bottom, it read, “Cheated on? Get tested.”
The NGO, as per the words of its regional director for advocacy and public relations, Mina Nakawuka, was only being realistic, facing up to the reality that HIV infections were high among married couples, thanks to cheating.
And when the Uganda Aids Commission called for the advert’s banning, saying it contrasted with the government’s message of faithfulness, an editorial in The Observer newspaper came in to restate the point that infidelity just could not be airbrushed out of the picture, as if it does not exist.
“Will people cheat less when they do not see the word “cheat”?” The Observer asked, adding, “Should we refuse to call a spade a spade because this might offend our sensibilities? What if calling it a spade might shock us out of the euphemisms in which we hide – and get us to act? We need to confront these questions.”
The use-a-condom-if-cheating billboard offered such a fine moment of reflection on just where infidelity fits in our society
Salongo Steven Senfuma, 57, symbolises Ugandan society and its relationship with infidelity.
He, just like Ugandan society, speaks out against infidelity, warning that it is a breeding ground for HIV/Aids. But he, just like many in Ugandan society, has gone on to sire children from more than one partner, 44 children in total, from so high a number of women, he is not even able to say it when asked.
This is what Martin Sembatya, a community psychologist and volunteer counsellor at Makerere University’s Counselling and Guidance Centre refers to as a society of contradictions. “We publically condemn infidelity because it contravenes cultural and traditional norms,” he says, “But quietly, we have accepted it.”
Most of society’s verbal endorsement of infidelity is largely indirect, subtle and expressed in metaphoric terms, even as a euphemism. When women get advice just before they marry, it, for all intents and purposes, tells women to learn the hard art of tolerating their husband when they finally stray. “Sengas advise girls to hold firm, stay obedient and will get to keep the position of the foremost woman in the home,” says Henry Nsubuga, the president Uganda Counselling Association.
On a recent breakfast radio show, presenters asked listeners to advise a woman whose husband of at least 10 years, was contemplating getting another wife. Almost all comments from listeners advised the woman to accept the co-wife.
The counsellor adds that rampant unemployment lures unemployed girls who desire to live comfortably into sexual relationships with rich but already married men. It also opens the door for marriages of convenience where a partner may choose to get married, not because they are in love, but because they are marrying a rich individual.
Messages to girls preparing for marriage give infidelity room to flourish, because they remove the psychological fear of a consequence to result from cheating. Mr Nsubuga says that the expectation of ‘punishment’ and ‘reward’ affects the choice of decisions people take.
Infidelity, he says, thrives because there is no fear of punishment that will result from it. If anything, there is actually a reward for those who cheat.