- "Rural men in Southern Malawi are convinced that being HIV positive reflects well on their masculinity and sexual prowess," a new report reveals. While many Malawian men were enlightened on the HIV-AIDS issue, some boast of having the virus as it proves they are sexually powerful.
This is documented in a study carried out by Amy Kaler, a sociologist at Canada's University of Alberta. The report also says: "Journals of recorded conversations, or passing reference about AIDS between the respondents, show that not only did they [men] associate manliness with HIV, but one man even corrects another by saying that he had slept with all the desirable girls in one particular village, and would be the sole cause of an AIDS outbreak there."
A chat with several people at random in the Malawian cities Lilongwe, Blantyre and Chikwawa was done in order to discover the legitimacy of such a claim as well as to have some kind of insight into the findings of the study. The question asked by 'The Chronicle' was: "Do you think that being HIV positive reflects well on a man's masculinity?" Both men and women were asked the same question and a diverse number of responses were made.
Josiah Phiri from Malawi's capital Lilongwe says that it is not true that having AIDS is a sign of somebody’s masculinity. "One gets the disease if he sleeps with the one who is infected." He says AIDS is a serious disease that one cannot boast about having. "If one contracts the disease, one should just wait for death no matter how long it might take."
Eric Tembo from Lilongwe says if one comes out in the open and says that having the virus is a sign of prowess, then that somebody is not normal. "AIDS is a killer disease. There is nobody who can celebrate having the disease." He added that some men contract the disease unknowingly and there is no way one can later say that as a result of this he is powerful. He says whoever can boast of having the virus is 'totally stupid'.
Martin Phiri, a resident of Chitipi, west of the capital, said it could be true that some boast of having the virus because they believe that having multiple partners is sign that one is totally in control. "You know men are considered to be superior, and for some, it is like fashion to have as many partners as they can." He said this happens especially in the village where "a man is regarded as a provider of everything and women also do not resist, even when they know that he already has a partner."
Joseph Bokosi who hails from the Malawian capital says that some men think that they cannot contract the virus that causes AIDS and they sleep with as many people as they can. "Yes, I do agree, some men indeed boast that if they have the virus, they have 'dealt' with a lot of girls and they feel proud. Some even go to the extent of boasting that they have the virus and they are at liberty to spread it as they wish." he said.
Mary Magombo, who is a Christian, said that anyone who believes that contracting the virus confirms his masculine power should go back to Jesus Christ. She says Christ is only way to avoid contracting the virus. "But I have indeed heard that some men do boast if they have the virus. Even when you see that somebody is dying, he will be celebrating that he will not go alone." She says that this means that most men indeed do boast. "They think they are powerful."
A popular drinking suburb in Blantyre, Malawi's second city, has many men and women who come to the drinking spots in the area. The rapidly growing drinking businesses have given residents an insight into the behaviour of patrons.
Jon, a resident of a highly populated Blantyre suburb, says many people have died in the area during the past few years. "It is because they are not serious with the things they hear about AIDS." A very concerned Jons adds: "When someone who has been sick for some time dies, we know why they have died but you cannot imagine that people involved in the circle of relationship with that person just seem to continue to with others."
He says it is very often the men just continue having sexual relationships with women who are known associates of the person who has died. "It looks like people are not believing that there is AIDS around."
Grace, who lives nearby, says the men just find another girlfriend when the regular partner one dies. "In fact, if they can have several girlfriends they consider themselves lucky because not any one of them can try to control the man."
Having several sexual partners, she says, makes the man think he is popular and has the money. Grace explains it is financial gain which makes a woman have sex with a man she is aware may be infected, and men continue to have sex even when they know they are infected because they like to be in control and prove they can do what they want.
Most people in this mini city centre, say the men continue to have sex with many partners because it makes them feel strong and in control. "It is a sign that he is alive and can have sex and satisfy a woman" becomes the general norm.
During a chat with some men sitting under a tree drinking Chibuku (traditional beer) in the southern town of Chikwawa, one man who was sceptical on the findings said this might have been the case many years back. "At that time when we were not accepting that there is this disease, men could have said that, but now when we are seeing the effects of the disease for ourselves and what it is doing in the villages, we can not play with HIV/AIDS."
Another said there are many things that happen in the village, which have stopped now because of the fear of spreading the virus. "We have information from the radio and hospitals we visit which tell us about how HIV/AIDS is spread, so we try to avoid those practices which will expose us to infections," he said adding, "some things are very difficult to change but we are foolish if we do not change because AIDS will destroy us all."
Asked if anyone of them thought that being HIV positive proved their masculinity one older man laughing saying: "When I was a young man, having sex with many women was considered a good thing. It would mean you are handsome and can satisfy a woman sexually that the women will accept to have sex with you at any time." Still laughing he continues: "These women talk amongst themselves and if you cannot perform sexually, they will not sleep with you again." He says although this was the case more than 10 years ago, men are now more aware of the dangers of contracting HIV/AID.
A discussion among the men, which drew quite a crowd, affirmed that information on HIV/AIDS is available, but the problem is the messages may not be taken seriously. Often they believe that contracting HIV/AIDS will happen to others and not to them.
Malawi's Minister of Health, Dr Hetherwick Ntaba, told 'The Chronicle' it was irresponsible for anyone to make a statement like that. "I do not think anyone in their right mind can say being HIV is a sign of their masculinity, not with all the information that is available and is being disseminated," he said. Mr Ntaba said people did not only hear about HIV and AIDS, "but they can see for themselves the devastation that is being caused by the pandemic."
However, Ms Kaler in her dissertation stressed that since men in many parts of the world emphasise sexual activity and risk-taking in their daily conversation with one another, it is doubtful that the Malawi men's attitudes were unique.
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