After contracting a sexually transmitted infection, Sally Maforchi Mboumien is working to change attitudes that unfairly place the burden of treatment and prevention on women.
I envision a society where every woman can freely take charge of her sexual life without fear of judgment or intimidation.
For the fifth time since I have been married, I found myself infected with a sexually transmitted infection.
After I came back from the hospital that day, I could barely sleep. How was I to tell my husband? He never believes such infections concern him. Despite many fights on this issue, my husband's stance remains that infections are my business. He doesn’t understand that I am talking to him about them so that we can find a solution.
This time, I was not just angry because I had the infection again, or because I had to buy the drug treatments by myself. I was angry at myself for letting him infect me over and over again. I went to a close friend that morning to unburden my heart because it was truly heavy.
After I finished narrating my ordeal, my friend looked at me and said, “It is well, sis.” She told me that in the arena of marriage, women are very vulnerable and still, society will not allow us to speak up. She told me her own story which left me speechless.
She was a virgin when she married, and she has not known another man except her husband. Five years ago, she was diagnosed HIV+, which greatly alarmed her. Her husband’s response to the situation was very wicked and inhumane. He blamed her and scandalized her for infecting him, and called her a prostitute. Ironically, when their health situation became very bad, she discovered that her husband had been diagnosed two years prior to her own diagnosis. He refused to take antiretrovirals.
I left my friend’s house even more confused than when I went there. I kept asking myself, why should women pay the price?
My mother was in the living room when I got back. I barely noticed her because I was so absorbed in my own thoughts. She said, “Mamon, can you share with me what is bothering you so much?” After I finished telling her my troubles, she said, “Are you through narrating?” I nodded, and she laughed and went straight into the kitchen to get me food. I felt insulted and offended and became angry immediately.
I realized I had judged my mother wrongly after she shared her own experience with me. She told me that the situation for women regarding STIs is especially horrible in polygamous marriages, like the one she was in. In that setting, a spouse is never free from STIs because it is a chain. She told me that her decision to not have sex with my father caused family members to hold meetings with her. Her refusal was an act of self protection: My father was never willing to go to the hospital for check ups, and he refused to even acknowledge that STIs are a concern for his family. My mother said to me, “My daughter, I asked myself, ‘What use is it to be having intercourse with a man just to spend huge amounts of money later for treatment?’”
My mother helped me to understand that this is an issue many women of her generation face. The story made me very angry, but her last words gave me many sleepless nights.
“You people of this time,” she said, “you have knowledge, freedom, and many health facilities, and yet you still suffer like we did in the past.” She then told me that after refusing my father, she never suffered from an STI again.
These remarks of hers made me wonder where this oppression of women’s health rights is taking women in our communities. Many have died because they had no right to express their views about having safe sexual intercourse with husbands they suspect are infected.
Will it be an abomination if women are able to make decisions concerning their own health? Is it fair for promiscuous men to be allowed to spread STIs of all sorts? Can discussions of the importance of condom use go beyond government campaigns on HIV prevention to include discussion of all STIs? We must change this discourse.
I envision a society where every woman can freely take charge of her sexual life without fear of judgment or intimidation. It is for this reason that my organization is visiting women’s groups to provide education on STIs. These infections, which affect both men and women, can be both prevented and treated, like most diseases. They must not be viewed as only a woman’s problem, and we must stand up to the men in our communities to equalize responsibility.
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