The sad tale of HIV positive women

Saturday December 26 2009

SEEKING HELP: Ms Esiat (R) at the Women Wont

SEEKING HELP: Ms Esiat (R) at the Women Wont Wait office in Pallisa. Looking on is a woman who had come to seek help. PHOTO FLAVIA LANYERO 

By Flavia Lanyero

Pallisa

“After declaring my status, my husband started questioning where I got the disease from and how I got it. He immediately left the house and went to live with another woman,” Ms Anna Isikot, an HIV positive mother narrated in an interview with Saturday Monitor.

Even after leaving, Ms Isikot’s husband occasionally returns home to beat her. And she has been going through this pain for the last 12 years, in the presence of their five children.
This, Ms Isikot says, has affected her emotionally and occasional breaks down. Yet to this day, her husband has refused to go for an HIV test.

Like Ms Isikot, women in this region are subjected to horrific torture when they disclose their HIV status to their partners and this is also leading to high cases of domestic violence.
A 2008 survey on violence against women and girls in Pallisa indicates that 65.3 per cent of women have experienced physical violence and 64.6 per cent have experienced both physical and sexual violence.

Because men hold so much authority in the home, the report said even going to the hospital, at least 36 per cent of women have to seek their husband’s permission.

The Action Aid program officer in Pallisa, Ms Odoi Caroline said women usually know their status when they attend antenatal care services since it is mandatory to take an HIV test.
“It’s this point that determines whether the relationship will be violence free or not,” Ms Odoi said.

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As a result, women hide their status from their spouses for fear of sparking violence. The story of 42- year- old Jane Apia is testimony to this.

Facing isolation
After coming out openly about her status in 2002, Ms Apia has been isolated by her family, fearing she could transmit the virus to them.

“My family members could tell the children not to sit near me saying, if I got a mosquito bite that immediately jumped on them, they would contract the disease.” Ms Apia said in an interview.
“The children feared me, I even had my own cup, plate, basin, generally I was isolated from the rest of the family,” she added.

Ms Apia says this discrimination drove her away from her matrimonial home.
Now living alone, she says her life is much better, although she still faces discrimination from her neighbours. But there is hope for women after an organization, Women Won’t Wait Project started in Pallisa to give access to justice to women caught in the web of violence.

Ray of hope
It was through this organization that Ms Jenifer Alupo, the woman who made headlines in the press for being forced to breast feed puppies by her husband was able to speak out.
The counsellor for this project, Ms Alice Esiat says she receives up to five women every day who report case of violence on them by their spouses.
“Most men in (Pallisa) are polygamous, but when a woman demands to know the man’s status, this automatically triggers violence,” she said.

Local leaders here said bride price has also played a key role in triggering violence in homes.
Even if a woman is sick, tired, stressed or not in the mood for having sex, they are normally forced to have sex by their husbands on account that they paid for bride price.
“We call it a duty to play sex with our women and the blessing is to have children,” said Mr Wilson Tawonja, the prime minister of Bagwere Cultural Union.
“After paying bride price we do not understand why a woman does not want to play sex,” he added.

Weak laws
Ms Hope Icedu a lawyer in Pallisa who deals with domestic violence cases says current domestic laws have gaps which make it easy for perpetrators to get away with the crime.
“The Penal Code does not allow amending the charge sheet, we sometimes get stuck borrowing laws here and there but in the Domestic Violence Act, even women who are cohabiting can be able to access justice,” Ms Icedu said.

At the moment, Ms Icedu says they devising means on how domestic violence cases in the area can be presided over, without a woman’s family refunding dowry.

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