(Jamaica Observer) More women are cheating on their partners, a feature of changing gender roles in the Caribbean, according to a tri-nation study carried out in Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The report, commissioned in 2011 by Panos Caribbean and which is to be released here this month, also confirmed “very strong links” between infidelity and transmission of HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.
“In highlighting infidelity, focus must be on the role of both men and women in perpetuating the spread of HIV. While in the past, it was usually the men who played the field, now many Caribbean women are doing the same,” the Panos Caribbean study said. According to the amalgamated study, married women in the Caribbean were particularly vulnerable to HIV because of (intrinsic) trust and social conventions surrounding marriage.
“Many are unaware of their husbands’ infidelity, or in cases where they suspect that their husbands are cheating, they are in denial or not in a position to negotiate condom use,” Panos said.
“In a culture where men are socialised to believe their manly prowess ought to be measured by the number of women they have, it is almost the accepted norm for men in Jamaica to have multiple sexual partners, even within committed marital and common-law relationships…But infidelity has and continues to fuel the spread of HIV both in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and has even surfaced within the church,” said the report.
Research in Haiti clearly showed that many married women, as well single women with steady boyfriends, took lovers on the side. “For some it is an occasional fling, while others form medium- to long-term sexual relationships ‘outside’, that run parallel to their recognised union,” Panos said.
The NGO, CECOSIDA, which conducted the Haiti leg of the study to determine how infidelity contributed to HIV transmission rates there, found evidence of a direct correlation between both.
“Infidelity is a strange phenomenon which, although common, is still taboo: if you practise it, you (certainly) don’t talk about it…At least this is the case in Haiti. What is particularly alarming is that most men don’t use condoms, and they have no idea about their partner’s sexual history. So, in this way, STIs such as HIV are very easily transmitted,” the Haiti report said.
In the Dominican Republic, the study found that marital infidelity was a serious social problem, but there it was still mostly a problem with men.
“While some men will take a mistress on a long-term basis, others have multiple sexual partners, often changing them in quick succession. While this behaviour is not completely sanctioned in Dominican society, it is widespread and is tolerated…,” the report said, citing a 2006 UNIFEM report.
“Surveys commissioned by the Dominican Health Ministry in the 1990s found that approximately 50 per cent of men have had extramarital affairs. However, a lead researcher has indicated that these surveys may have understated the reality. Against this background, infidelity has been identified as one of the main reasons for the spread of AIDS in the Dominican Republic, a country which has one of Latin America’s highest percentages of people living with HIV,” Panos said.
Panos added that apart from sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean was the only region where the proportion of women and girls living with HIV (at 53%) was higher than that of men and boys.
“In fact, despite the gains made in HIV prevention in the Caribbean, women who are married or in stable relationships constitute one of the sub-populations within which HIV infections continue to grow. This phenomenon poses a challenge for health-care systems across the region,” the organisation said.
Among its key recommendations to address HIV transmission in the Caribbean and the factors fuelling it, the study said that the culture of silence surrounding sexuality, exploitative transactional and intergenerational sex and violence against women within relationships “must be confronted in innovative ways that promote lasting behaviour change”.
The combined study will be officially launched in May online via Panos Caribbean’s website at www.panoscaribbean.org as well as its social media pages: Facebook and Twitter.