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Zimbabwe senator calls for women to go unwashed, bald-headed and circumcised in fight against HIV

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Ilona Lo Iacono
WVoN co-editor

A Zimbabwean senator has claimed that, in order to stop the spread of HIV, women need to make themselves less attractive and eliminate their vaginal “moisture”.

Morgan Femai, a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) senator for Chikomo, addressed a parliamentary HIV awareness workshop in Kadoma on Friday.

The workshop was organised by the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians against HIV and AIDS, in conjunction with the National Aids Council, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and some UN agencies.

He suggested that female circumcision would help stop the transmission of the disease, and explained:

“Women have got more moisture in their organs as compared to men so there is need to research on how to deal with that moisture because it is conducive for bacteria breeding. There should be a way to suck out that moisture.”

Senator Femai also said that women have been “becoming more attractive”, making them harder for men to resist, thereby causing promiscuity. He said that women should reverse this trend by losing weight, dressing shabbily and keeping their heads bald.

“What I propose is that Government should come up with a law that compels women to have their heads clean-shaven like what the Apostolic sects do. We have never heard that those people are promiscuous so the women should have their heads shaved.

“They should also not bath (sic) because that is what has caused all these problems [spread of HIV],” he said.

The Apostolic sects, it should be noted, have not been spared by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, though sect leaders have, at times, exhorted them to ignore it altogether.

Sect members continue to practise polygamy and wife inheritance, with marriages often arranged between underage girls and older men. Access to healthcare is limited, with most members believing only in spiritual cures, and associating modern medicine with wickedness.

Rural women members often give birth in unsanitary conditions at shrines, increasing the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

More than 15,000 children are infected with HIV in Zimbabwe every year, mainly through mother-to-child transmission. This accounts for the highest number of HIV infections among the population, after heterosexual sex.

While many believe that the true HIV infection rate is higher than current estimates of 14% of the general population, it appears that it has declined from a peak of 30%. It is thought that increased condom usage and changing attitudes towards the acceptability of multiple partners and paying for sex have contributed to the declining rate.

MDC-T legislator, Thabitha Khumalo, has alternative advice for women looking to avoid HIV.

She recommends that women accept that all men will cheat, and befriend their husband’s mistresses. If wives fight with mistresses, she says, husbands will be driven away into secret affairs with yet more women, thus increasing the risk of STI exposure.

She is also campaigning for the legalisation of prostitution, and has pledged to help commercial sex workers form a trade union to fight for their rights.

Another MDC-T senator, Sithembile Mlotshwa, recently claimed that people should limit themselves to sex once a month, and that men should be injected with libido-suppressing drugs.

She also said, in a separate debate, that prisoners should be provided with “sex gadgets” so that they could satisfy their sexual desires without “spreading” homosexuality, even if budgetary restrictions meant that such gadgets would come at the expense of prisoners’ food and clothing.

According to Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, an estimated 60% of Zimbabwean adults living with HIV at the end of 2009 were female. The gender gap was more pronounced among the young: 77% of young people aged 15 to 24 with HIV were female.

Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence is among the highest in the world and many of those in need of antiretroviral treatment are not receiving it.

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