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Marriage is bad for your health (if you're a woman)


Despite the general impression that HIV affects the poorest levels of society, several studies over the years have shown that higher socioeconomic status is a risk factor for HIV infection in African women.

Why is this? Two reasons have been suggested: 1) that professional African women have more monogamous partners during their lifetime (serial monogamy), and 2) that many woman achieve better socioeconomic status by marrying wealthier men, who tend to have more than one sexual partner at a time.

The association between marital status and vulnerability to HIV in women has long been documented. What is new, however, is that for many women, marriage is an escape route from poverty based on a rational analysis that varies with different cost-benefit calculations.

This was recently shown in a study published in Global Public Health, in which Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu and colleagues analysed the association between marriage and HIV in 72 seropositive women in southern Malawi, a poor country where women are even worse off then men.

The 72 women took part in one of 12 focus groups, from which it emerged that the two main reasons for women getting married were the desire to escape poverty and the desire for companionship. These desires persisted, even though the women, based on their own life experience and on cultural norms in Malawi, knew that men regularly had sex outside marriage.

Many of the women, who were often victims of domestic abuse or violence, remarried, sometimes more than once, after they were widowed or after their husbands had left them following the birth of their children. Somewhere along this path, they were diagnosed with HIV.

Following these experiences, some of the women interviewed had decided that marriage was no longer worth it and that they would prefer to be poor again rather than to remarry:

“I suffered for a long time. There is nothing for me to benefit from a man. He will only add to my problems. I would rather sit in my house [implies both hunger and loneliness] so that my life should be extended”.

Other posts by Joan Tallada

The Risks of Social Advancement (for Women)

[This entry has been posted simultaneously on Joan Tallada's blog]