A Recent report by Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids [COWLHA] indicates that intimate partner violence (IPV) is on the increase among women living with the virus. How wide is the problem? Ephraim Nyondo begins to find out.
There must be something wrong with being born a woman.
That is according to the thoughts of Marrieta Kandoje [not real name] from the southern Malawi district of Thyolo.Â
She was born with a heart full of gold yet it couldnâ€™t change the world. She dropped out of school while in Standard Eight. Years of loafing threw her into marriage at 21.
Her first marriage was hopeful. The husband was caring, always available until death unleashed its terror. She became a widow without a child, helpless.
Â Searching for a fortune, she migrated to Blantyre. She pursued a lot of piecework in shops owned by Asians and domestic jobs in different households until she got a second husband, a tailor, in 2003.
She started living in Chilomoni, Blantyre, with the new husband.
â€œIt was my joy. You know how tough it is for a woman to live without a husband,â€ she explains.
By the end of 2003, they had a bouncy baby girl. Life was picking up for her. But by mid 2004, she started to get unwell. Waves of stomach-aches and persistent diarrhoea got the better of her.
â€œThe ailment, despite taking medication, persisted for months. I began to get worried,â€ she says.
As her worry grew, her body, too, started to whither into twigs. Troubled, she asked her husband if they would go for an HIV and Aids test. He resisted with stern. He argued that her body was too strong and healthy for the virus.
But as she grew too weak to gather firewood for the family, she sneaked to Chilomoni Health Centre, where she was promptly diagnosed with HIV. That was in 2005.
â€œI was devastated. But I was not down. I broke the news to my husband to compel him to go for the test as well. He still refused,â€ he says.
In 2007, Kandojeâ€™s illness started to worsen. Even tragic, her husband started to keep distance.
He could not provide the care and support she needed. As a result, she was always with her child, bedridden, without a helping hand of an adult.
â€œHe could come around, shout at me, calling me all sorts of names, accusing me of sleeping around, and when I answered back, he could slap me,â€ she explains.
Even when she insisted that he, too, should go for a test, the husband was still adamant and hostile.
â€œSometimes, he could force me to sleep with him when, with my frailty, I didnâ€™t even feel like doing it. Even when I advised him to use a condom, in his drunken stupor, he couldnâ€™t even mind,â€ she says.
The beatings and denials and lack of support persisted. Dazed, she left the house and headed for home in Thyolo.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t deliberate, I wanted to die in peace,â€ she explains.
As she was going home, she thought her absence would strike her husbandâ€™s conscious. It didnâ€™t. She stayed almost a month without a whisper from him.
â€œThere was a time when I forced myself to go to the city and ask for his help. He brushed me off to the extent of denying me transport. I can tell you that in frail health, I walked from Limbe to Thyolo. That was the worst experience I got from him,â€ she says.
Her story is just one of the many stories across the country that depicts the wisdom of intimate partner violence (IPV) in the country.
Of course, IPV, if you take from how men and women relate to each other in Malawi, is already a deeper problem. Most women, compared to men, report to have ever suffered abuse from their husbands.
However, the dawn of HIV and Aids has come almost as a nail on the coffin of women living positively.
For instance, research instituted by the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and Aids (MANET+) in 2010 showed that 47.6 percentÂ women living with HIV are physically harassed compared to 15.1 percent of their male counterparts.
Early this year, the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (COWLHA), with a grant from United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, began to implement a three-year project aimed at addressing violence against women in 12 districts.
â€œThe goal of the project is to prevent intimate partner violence for women living with HIV and creates an enabling environment for the promotion of womenâ€™s rights,â€ says Annie Banda, National Coordinator of COWLHA.
As part of the project, COWLHA carried out a study on intimate partner violence among people living with HIV across six districts.
The study was carriedÂ out among people living with HIV in Ntchisi, Salima, Thyolo, Nsanje, Rumphi and Karonga districts and used a semi structured quantitative questionnaire and focus group discussions (FGDs) collection tools.
Overall, 361 people were consulted in the six districts covering 17 traditional authorities including people living with the virus belonging to support groups, local and religious leaders and service providers in the HIV sector.
The study reveals that 20 percent of the people living with the virus suffer physical violence; 50 percent are subjected to psychological abuse and 41 percent suffer from sexual abuse.
â€œPsychological abuse,â€ says Banda, â€œis the most dominant form of violence and verbal abuse is the most common form of psychological abuse affecting 17 percent of the respondents 22 percent of men suffer from verbal abuse against 16 percent of the women in intimate partnerships.â€
This means, there could be thousands Marriet Kandojes suffering in silence, and a thousand more across the country dying with painful stories buried in their hearts.