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Women as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns

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I have been listening to, watching and reading the series of adverts by NAC, DFID, and PSI and endorsed by the Ministry of Health with concern. I am referring to the adverts dealing with the issue of small houses. At a meeting some time last year at which Wellington Mushayi from PSI presented his findings on the issue of concurrent multiple relationships, l problematised a number of their findings. I also problematised the way he presented his data. In particular l found offensive his use of the word hure in the title of their research report titled “Small House, Hure, Sugar Daddies, and Garden Boys: A Qualitative Study of Heterosexual Concurrent Partnerships Among Men and Women in Zimbabwe, 2007″.

My contention then and now is that the acceptability of the use of hure in this research was not an accident. Nor was it just a case of the researchers being objective. It reflected the patriarchal world view of the research team. I remember him justifying the use of this word on the grounds that it was merely meant to reflect what was coming out in the findings. But that does not wash. The research was done mainly in local languages. They translated the responses and they maintained the word hure even after this translation. What did they want to communicate?

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12 comments to “Women as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns”

  1. Comment by Chikondi:

    I fully agree with Catherine regarding the stigmatising of so called small houses..I also have been questioning these adverts on radio and TV and wondered as to how they further stigmatise women in that kind of relationship

    For me personally, it’s not about whether being a ‘small house’ is immoral or not, but it’s related to the research that has been carried out.Has PSI really gone to the deeper roots of this issue?

    I think more research needs to be done around this issue and not continue stigmatising women who are in those relationships for they have their own reasons and they are not entirely responsible for the spread of HIV . why do people still think that the small houses exist because of money and other material gains?? Please!!!!!

    This issue is even causing division within the women’s movement for no one wants to issue a statement around violation of women’s rights, for some of them have their husbands engaged in these ‘outside relationships’ and would want to further stigmatise the ‘small houses’ by denouncing them as ‘hures’

    as women, we are our own enemies and it will be too late before you realise it!!!!!

  2. Comment by Charity Maruta:

    Thank you Catherine for saying it better than me. I thought the PSI small house adverts are very insluting to Zimbabwean women, because their reseachers think we are used to being abused and they know there is nothing that we can do to them. so in the name of soical marketing taking another cheap shot at women is ok. Because the men in power would definitly have their heads if they ever blamed them for spreading Disease and Death. So, they can sleep easy knowing they are safe if they them the women again.

    But like you say they have incredible resoucres to validate the obivous zimbabwean male
    point of view of their womankind, who are at the end of the day their mothers, sisters and daughters. But of course even they are all only women.

  3. Comment by Catherine:

    You are both very right. The issue of labels Chikondi is one that l believe as the women’s movement we have not engaged with enough. i.e. how we are labelled as women but most importantly as you point out, how these labels detract from the bigger issues and divide us. We therefore find that some of our organisations will not get involved when sex workers have been rounded up by the police, because they are purportedly too busy dealing with other issues of “women rights”. Others will not participate in activities by women in GALZ because they are apparently “gay or lesbian issues” and not really women’s issues and so the distinctions go on. As far as l know, no women’s organisation except Zimbabwe Women Writers in their research for the book “A tragedy of lives” has really engaged with the issue of women in prison, because they are labelled criminals-even though a good few of them were incarcerated after hitting out against their abusive husbands/partners and in the process harming them. And so we have among women, the morally upright women, the married women, the prostitutes, the saints, the sinners, the small houses, the lesbians, the transgendered, the transexuals and the nuns in religious life. What is it that unites us? We are women confronting a common foe: Patriarchy. It might manifest itself in the priest who abuses young girls, or in the pastor who abuses nuns. It may manifest itself as President Bush who would not fund work that spoke about abortion, or perhaps it will manifest itself as the judge who incarcerated a woman after she hit out at her abusive partner after years of abuse. It could even be that senior partner at law firm X who would not employ me or any female lawyer, because we would soon fall pregnant and be demanding to be paid while sitting at home on maternity leave doing nothing!

    I suspect the reason we have not had a lot of people (women) speaking out on these adverts by PSI is that at some level, as you point out, we have all known what it is to have a partner who has turned their attention elsewhere and we have felt it was the fault of “that woman”! This is what we are being sold by campaigns such as PSIs. Or worse, as PSI researchers report, it is OUR fault for not meeting his needs. This is what society tells us.

    What HIV has done is exposed the fissures in this system of patriarchy. It has shown how we are vulnerable, no matter who we are or where we are located. It has forced us to confront the structural injustices that have for a long time been accepted as normal and that we have turned a blind eye to. So now we talk about the need to eradicate gender based violence if we are to confront HIV. We now talk about the need to confront gender inequalities because they lead to the spread of the virus. NGOs have been forced to confront the rights of LGTBIs because their exclusion impacts on HIV. Slowly and reluctantly, so-called mainstream organisations are talking about the rights of so-called sex workers. We are even talking of toxic masculinities!

    Now we are still confronted with the same institutions of patriarchy attempting to address a new problem (HIV). The temptation is to go back to the “good” old days and the old ways of dealing with the “problem”. Control. How do you control? Violence, money, other resources, laws, policies (e.g. the Gag Rule by the former US president)

  4. Comment by James Watadza:

    AFRICANS PLEASE! I am 100% pro-African. Our culture, with its many failings (including lack of recognition of the woman in certain areas of customary law) is far better, more solid and rigid than western so called morality.

    African culture was moulded over many generations into a system that ensures the safety and sanctity of the morally upright society we all knew not more than 30 years ago. We had respect for women (failings noted), we had family bonds, expanded family networks that ensured street kids were a foreign concept, girls were protected (yes…indoors by sunset wasn’t imprisonment; it was protection!)…the list goes on.

    Now, addressing your concerns about the term ‘hure’…unfortunately, being in Africa, you all need to realise and appreciate that we are, sadly (for you I suppose), still Africans. And as such must recognize our identity and our social norms and taboos. ‘Hure’ seeks to shame ..and yes…blame…the women into moving away from such relationships, because at the end of the day, it is up to the woman to say NO. That said, rather than try to sanitize the immoral women, instead I suggest you campaign for a similarly dirty label for the men! Making these hures feel good about what they do will only worsen the problem! I will give you a simple example: Instead of campaigning for the girlchild to be allowed to be out late, like the boychild, women should have campaigned for the boychild to be likewise required to be indoors by sunset. Instead, out of aping the Americans, women campaigned for the girlchild to be out late. The result? Well…walk into any night club today and count the ‘poor innocent’ girls milling about in there!

    The west is adept at making a mess of systems that were in place and protective of individuals and groups. In that rush to be the champion of ‘good’, they have made pedophiles, gays and lesbians, murders and other ilk into ‘victims’ deserving special treatment and acceptance, thereby allowing the cancer to grow in society.

    African culture is not perfect…but it is a damn good deal better than the west at maintainig social order and fairness. If you want to fix our problems…campaign for the men in these adverts to be called ‘imbwa/inja’ (dogs), or other similar terms to your, womens; satisfaction so that both parties are equally stigmatised.

    If you turn ‘hure’ into some nice term like ‘supportive additional spouse’ or something chocolate-coated like that…you are not only going to turn small houses into a fashionable exra marital pastime that people in the media will likely glamorize and promote as ‘cool’. Please,think of our children..our future…our culture!

  5. Comment by Thomas Gobvu:

    I am failing to see how the adverts in question are stigmatizing women. I have also seen an advert that are part of this campiagn telling a story about a fellow called Joe, who starts the whole sexual network. It is bacause of this fellow that everyone in the sexual network gets infiected with HIV. But I do not hear guys saying the adverts are stigmatising men. Why? I really think the adverts are balanced and address both men and women that having the ‘small houses’ or are the ‘small houses.’ I also think these adverts really make people stop and reflect on their actions if you have a small house or are a small house. Rather than attack PSI, we should be concentrating on addressing the issue of small houses which I believe have been identified as on of the major drivers of HIV in Zimbabwe.

  6. Comment by James Watadza:

    here here Mr Gobvu

  7. Comment by Kubatana.net speaks out from Zimbabwe » Blog Archive » Fear of difference:

    [...] I would like to make a few comments that connect to two excellent recent Kubatana blogs­the first by Amanda Atwood concerning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the second by Catherine Makoni concerning the troublesome PSI research/adverts. [...]

  8. Comment by timothy:

    Hie Zimbabweans,
    I for one happen to agree with most of the sentiments expressed with some indulgence. You know the same look you see on a mother’s face when a child pretends to slay monsters behind the closet! You know the moment you walk out of the room she will hide under the blankets and pray that she will be alife come morning!

    Women and men alike in Zimbabwe are not ready for the woman to become truly independent. Some, a lot in fact, would say that this is not even desirable. I mean look around you! Almost every aspect of tradition, culture or simply social scenario that oppresses women and elevates the men needs the active endorsement of women.

    Who has made the man the demi-god to be cherished and fought over? Who teaches the male to be dominant and selfish from birth? Who has made marriage the defining status for a woman no matter how well she does elsewhere? Who still consents to and actually gleefully partakes in a transaction that basically buys and sells a woman? Who still uses sex to get attention and support? Who isolates and demeans the single and unmarried mother, even in church? WOMAN!

    Is it not ironic that woman has actually presided over her own subjugation for centuries? Women have created not just the human ife in the whole universe but also the character of the men that dominate them!

    There is no woman I love better than my mother and clearly I learnt that love on her knee as she sang to me and in her arms as she nursed me. That is power a man, my father, can never have. How is it that women then develop their boys into monsters that apparently terrorise the women they later interact with? IMPOSSIBLE!


  9. Comment by Chapomba:

    Now, tell me, why do women use demeaning terms like “hure” to refer to other women? Married women in particular are especially susceptible to this disease. Do you think such terms will go anywhere soon? Think of terms like tsvimbonyoro(wife-less man), mvana, hohonwa, harahwa etc

  10. Comment by Farai Mudavanhu:

    Catherine, after going through your speech, at first I thought you were right. However, I made an effort to gather more information on the matter for myself and found one research report posted on the organisation’s website, which made me back-track and think that you may have some personal issues to resolve with either the organisation in question or the individual researcher, whom you have also decided to call by name. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. I am also a woman and really think that there is no need to sugar-coat issues to do with people having several partners over the same time, especially considering the overwhelming evidence showing these kinds of relationships to be driving the spread of HIV. I think research should not be criticised if it’s not reflecting what we want, but should be used as the first step into solving problems. Unfortunately, you want us to discard the findings from the research and continue doing what we ‘feel’ is right. Honestly, I think that is the main reason why we are taking time to make progress as women. Where we are supposed to use research to guide our strategies, we tend to use our feelings instead. I also think this is the reason why we can’t speak with one voice – since each one of us will come with a different ‘feeling’. In the end, ONLY those with money will be heard. As long as we continue to have activists who use shields against research findings, and, worse still, choose to fight personal battles against men and claiming to be doing it for ALL WOMEN, there will be no improvement for a suffering and disadvantaged woman out there. The adverts that I saw on TV and billboards which you said were from PSI seemed to be thought provoking to both the ‘cheating’ men and the women. However, I realised that if you are a sugar daddy or a small-house you may be hurt (hope you are not a small house, other-wise this may also explain your reaction). What I would suggest to you Catherine and others with the same opinion as yours is that the next time you want to tell the world a story, try to verify your facts (through some research) so that you won’t mislead people and also appear to be trying to shoot down those who fight for a good cause – in this case, saving our lives and marriages. I guess conducting research is one thing that I think all those who claim to be talking on behalf of us (Women) and getting funding for it MUST learn to do. They should be standing for a typical ZIMBABWEAN women and the only way to confidently know that you are addressing matters of substance to her is to conduct some research among Zimbabwean Women which will expose aspirations, obstacles etc and more importantly, contextualize the Zimbabwean women’s problems. Currently, I feel that most of us who are privileged to have access to resources are fighting personal battles at the expense of all women, most of whom are in real need (and using donor funding for that matter)! To this end, I urge those who provide funding to seriously consider evidence from the people they intend to serve before pumping out money, which will in the end address an individual’s personal experience under a wrong label – ‘FIGHTING FOR ALL ZIMBABWEAN WOMEN’

  11. Comment by Kubatana.net speaks out from Zimbabwe » Blog Archive » My research is my lived experience: Catherine Makoni:

    [...] on sexuality. One of the discussants on the panel was Catherine Makoni. Last year, her article Women as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns generated a lot of controversy on the Kubatana blog. One comment challenged her criticism of the [...]

  12. Comment by Farai Mudavanhu:

    I read your response and just realised that you based your initial article on your personal experience. Had you made this clear in your writing, I would not have made any comment. My feeling is that majority of women have worse negative personal experiences to tell but their stories remain untold because of several reasons. After these experiences, the question that most women may be interested in finding out is whether these experiences are still happening and if so, to what extent – this takes us to research and NOT to action (In the worst case scenario, you can do both at the same time and fine tune the action using research findings at a later date). I think that when you are fighting a problem that is not confined to yourself you CAN’T do away with research and claim at the end of the day that you can effectively address the problem. Various dimensions of the problem really need to be known to put up a good battle. Also, we need to know what tools to equip ourselves with to effectively fight the problem. Therefore, while your personal experience can provide valuable insight on issues that may still be happening, they can not be considered in isolation to come up with a conclusion – the equation need to be balanced and I am glad to point out to you that we now have a lot of other highly educated women, most of whom can do the balancing of this equation with less difficulty and reinforce our action. The fight for women and the girl child need a combined effort and full utilization of all the specialised skills that women have gathered over the years.