April 7th, 2014

This is your life. Get tested.

The way that we talk to those around us about HIV, marriage and sex can put women’s health at risk.

HIV videoThis insight lies behind ‘This is your life. Get tested.’, a new video released today by the We Can! campaign to mark World Health Day. The video depicts a woman sitting at a doctor’s office, trying to decide whether to take an HIV test, as she believes her husband has been having sex with other women.

As she waits for the doctor, memories of encounters with various figures in her life flash in front of her. These include her husband coercing her to have sex without protection despite her wishes, and her family and friends expressing scepticism and disbelief at her situation, or blaming her for it.

“This video illustrates how societal support for women’s sexual empowerment within marriage can be crucial to women’s health and well-being”, said Kokila Annamalai, the We Can! Campaign Coordinator. “Research on women who report contracting HIV from their husbands shows that sexual disempowerment plays a key role in their experience. As a society we must affirm women’s right to say no to sex, or to insist on a condom within marriage. We also want to encourage all women who think they may be at risk of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) to get tested”.

The video has been crafted based on a five-year qualitative study commissioned by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). The study was led by a team from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, and supported by the Department of STI Control, National Skin Centre and the Communicable Disease Centre.

Through in-depth interviews with 60 women, the study shows that among respondents who were married and diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, more than half reported that their husbands had infected them. Many of them knew that their husbands were having sexual relations outside of the marriage, but felt disempowered to protect themselves from STIs by refusing sex or ensuring the use of condoms.

This may be attributed to unequal power relations between husband and wife, as well as traditional gender norms expecting women to be sexually submissive to their husbands. This is reflected in some of the women’s reports that their husbands became violent when asked to use a condom. As a result, some women have been forcibly infected by HIV/AIDS through marital rape. Yet the Penal Code (Section 375(4)) continues to put women’s health at risk by giving immunity to husbands who rape their wives.

The study also found that HIV-infected women’s difficulties were compounded by stigmatisation by unsympathetic family, friends, workplaces and community. This deters some women who are at risk from getting tested and seeking support. The video aims to raise awareness of the importance of women prioritising their own health and lives, even if friends and family are less than supportive.

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