Till Death Do Us Part: Marriage, HIV/AIDS and the Law in Zimbabwe


Lying in Sub Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Zimbabwe has grappled since 1985 to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. Statistics point out to one glaring factor- the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women and in the case of Zimbabwe married women. Laws, policies and practices in relation to marriage predispose married women to HIV/AIDS infection. The answer to protecting women does not lie entirely in the law but in transformative gender equality.

Zimbabwe has two types of recognized marriages and the third type , the unregistered customary law union is given limited recognition. The thread linking the three is payment of bride price ( lobola). Culturally it signifies perpetual consent to sex. It brings with it levirate marriage which increases risk of HIV infection. Despite marital rape being crimililized, so far no man has been prosecuted.

Laws on confidentiality and disclosure by medical personnel are not yet fully developed. Married women have called for compulsory disclosure for married couples. However such disclosure has to be handled in a sensitive manner as in most instances women find out first about their status due to screening of pregnant women.

Laws relating to distribution of property at divorce or death tilt in favor of men. Most women turn to transactional sex to make ends meet thus increasing the risk of infection.

The answer to protecting married women lies in transformative gender equality. If women in Zimbabwe are able to control their sexuality and to say no to policies and practices that predispose then to infection, the rates of infection will go down.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Health Law and Policy | Human Rights Law | International Law | Law and Gender | Sexuality and the Law

Date of this Version

June 2006