Somali Keeps Her AIDS Secret Despite Wedding Plans

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Somali woman in Kenya faces an arranged wedding knowing she could infect her husband with HIV-AIDS. She contracted the disease through unsafe anal sex to preserve her virginity.

A Somali woman in Kenya faces an arranged wedding knowing she could infect her husband with HIV-AIDS. NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS)--A month before she learned she had HIV, Sophia said she knew something was wrong. She started suffering from a constant fever and achy muscles.

She thought it was malaria and saw a doctor at the Nairobi Women's Hospital who said she was infected with HIV. Due to her weak immune system, she said she now has AIDS.

When Sophia confronted her boyfriend about her diagnosis he confessed that he tested positive three months before they became sexually involved.

"I cannot tell anyone about it, not even the closest of my friends," Sophia said, since she is not married and premarital sex goes against her Muslim culture. "My mother would have a heart attack if she knew I was positive."

Sophia (not her real name) is a 20-year-old Somali woman who, though recently having a boyfriend, has been betrothed for most of her life to a Muslim man from another country whom she has never met. The wedding, she thinks, will be in September.

She contracted HIV-AIDS by engaging in anal sex. Like many of her friends, she thought having that type of sex would preserve her virginity for her husband.

Nicholas Muraguri, director of the National AIDS and STD Control Programme in Kenya, said anal sex is four times riskier than any other type of sex because the inner lining of the anus is delicate and tears easily when roughly penetrated.

He said the practice of unprotected anal sex is common in some communities where virginity before marriage is valued and also among young people because they believe it is safer than other types of sex.

"The problem is most of the young people prefer this method as compared to vaginal sex," Muraguri said, adding that his program will soon be releasing a study on this problem.

'Normal Lifestyle'

Despite her diagnosis, Sophia seemed to think anal intercourse had been a good option. "I can live a normal lifestyle as any other girl and not worry," she said.

The big thing on her mind right now is that she does not have to worry about embarrassing her family on her wedding night.

A typical Somali wedding celebration ends with the newlyweds in a bedroom and the groom's family waiting outside for a bloody sheet to prove the bride's virginity. If she fails this test, the man's family has the right to demand repayment of the dowry paid to the bride's family.

A bride here in Kenya might not face the 100 lashings that is meted out in other Islamic countries, but she can often be shunned and considered dead by the family for not being a virgin.

Women's eNews met Sophia through an HIV-AIDS awareness workshop in Nairobi and interviewed her at her mother's empty clothing shop in Nairobi's Eastleigh, a neighborhood with many Somali immigrants.

An official at the National AIDS Control Council in Nairobi said that Sophia has some places to turn if she decides to tell her parents and they expel her.

The council and groups such as the Kenya Network of Women with Aids provide housing to many women suffering from HIV. Representatives of both groups said they could also provide her with tailoring work to make a living.

Sophia is reluctant though, saying that all this is about her family and the community.

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