In a recent conversation with Vuyi (my wife), I was extolling the cultural dynamics of marriage in Zambia. Understanding these dynamics is critical as it allows one to understand the degenerative cultural state that can manifest abject emotional numbness. This numbness best describes a typical Zambian man. I may hear some Zambian men object as being characterized as numb, but key to my theory is a generalization that lays in a certain group of men that permeate our society. Unfortunately these men are everywhere you go in Zambia. So forgive me the generalization, if only for the sake of maintaining a point of view. As I was saying in my conversation, as I drove on I-95 in Maryland, I found myself telling her how; even in a male dominated society with a misogynistic view towards female empowerment; marriage seems to work for Zambian relationships. Some will consider the word misogynistic a bit harsh, especially given the fact those many Zambian men consider a philanderer someone with a badge of honor. This love for women, they would say, is diametrically opposed to this view of female hatred. I will explain.
I cannot see how in a society that is rampant with an HIV/AIDS pandemic; primarily spread by heterosexual sex, men cannot consider themselves misogynistic. In an Advert charity article it states; “HIV has spread throughout Zambia and to all parts of society. However, some groups are especially vulnerable - most notably young women and girls. At the end of 2006, UNAIDS/WHO estimates that 15% of people aged 15-49 years old were living with HIV or AIDS. Of these million adults, 57% were women. AIDS has worst hit those in their most productive years, and, as families have disintegrated, thousands have been left destitute. Desperate people will inevitably turn to risky occupations - such as sex work - or migration. There is a saying among women in Zambia: "AIDS may kill me in months or years, but hunger will kill me and my family tomorrow".
The impact of AIDS has gone far beyond the household and community level. All areas of the public sector and the economy have been weakened, and national development has been stifled. As Zambia's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper acknowledges, "the epidemic is as much likely to affect economic growth as it is affected by it." According to the Zambia Business Coalition, 82% of known causes of employee deaths are HIV-related and 17% of staff recruited are to replace people who have died or left because of HIV-related infections. (http://www.avert.org/aids-zambia.htm)
As you can see, these statistics show that the disease is spreading at an alarming rate in a small country with a population of nearly nine million that does not have adequate health care. The majority of the reported AIDS deaths are due to a lack of medication for the usual opportunistic diseases that accompany a depleted immune system. So this alarming death rate continues to go unacknowledged by many in the population as it grows. The –my marriage is fine- myopia that has so permeated our women, causes many of them to sentence themselves to death as they succumb to the knowledge that husbands are unfaithful and endangering them through continued sexual relations. Asking a husband to wear a condom or take an HIV test would be unconscionable, while dying is permissible and acceptable. As long at the death certificate does not mention HIV. None of them do, they usually read, “Cause of death: Unknown.”
Back to this conversation with my wife; I pontificated about how women had for so long played second class citizens and accepted their dutiful subjugated position. I concluded my ten minute diatribe with, “It works for them.” Her quiet and well thought out response was, "But honey, it isn’t working. How can it be when thousands are dying, children are being left as orphans and grandparents are raising babies? Does that sound like something that is working?”
Now ain't that the truth!