Risky Practices in Zambia Weakening Fight Against HIV/AIDS

On Monday, University of Zambia researchers at a Lusaka conference presented findings on sexual and marriage practices in Mansa District in the era of HIV/AIDS.

The practice of dry sex, the use of herbs to reduce vaginal lubrication, persists despite its risk of causing ulcers through which HIV can easily pass, said researchers Thompson Kalinda and Robert Tembo.

Some risky practices, including widow "inheritance" by the deceased's brother, can only be stopped by traditional and church leaders, said Wilson Mwenya, the university's deputy vice chancellor, according to today's issue of Times of Zambia.

Tembo reported that the Aushi and other Bemba-speaking tribes have abandoned widow "cleansing," the ritual in which sex is involved to purify a widow of her dead husband's spirit. Instead, they now smear white maize meal on a widow or widower to symbolize purity.

Tembo explained that dry sex continued because of deep traditional gender inequality and the subordination of women, as well as the need to please the husband. High poverty levels, structural unemployment, and economic liberalization policies also affected risky sexual practices, he said. The need for food and shelter led to increased transactional sex and marital infidelity, especially among unemployed youths and vulnerable women, he said.

To curb these risky sexual customs, Tembo urged policies that include the empowerment of women and HIV/AIDS education. He also recommended the government set poverty reduction as the top priority and said traditional and religious leaders should become proactive in anti-AIDS efforts.