KASESE, 12 January 2011 (PlusNews) - Some Muslim women in western Uganda are demanding that a new HIV prevention programme for Muslims include condom promotion, going against calls by local religious leaders for the programme to be limited to messages on faithfulness and abstinence.
"The holy Koran allows Muslim men to marry four wives, but men still go out of wedlock and have extra-marital relationships," Jazira Mugisa told IRIN/PlusNews.
Mugisa said the money from the new project should be used to sensitize men on the use of condoms.
The four-year programme, localized to the western Ugandan district of Kasese and funded by the US Agency for International Development, is to be led by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. Local Muslim leaders have called for the funds - an estimated US$43,000 - to be used to promote fidelity within marriage and abstinence among unmarried people.
Uganda's national HIV prevention programme - which targets all sections of society - emphasizes abstinence, faithfulness and the correct and consistent use of condoms.
Sheikh Habib Mande, a religious leader from neighbouring Kabarole district, said condoms promoted immorality and went against the Koran's teachings. "The disease [HIV/AIDS] is spreading among the Muslim community because people have lost morals in society," he said.
Despite the women's calls, project officials say the campaign's main focus will be abstinence and marital fidelity.
"Our faith does not encourage the use of condoms as a preventive measure against HIV/AIDS but we are emphasizing abstinence and faithfulness among married couples," said Swaib Mushenene, project officer with the new programme.
Mushenene added that according to Muslim teachings, men intending to marry additional wives were required to discuss the decision with existing wives, offering an opportunity to discuss issues such as HIV testing before marriage and sexual fidelity afterwards.
Health workers in the area have called for greater sensitization of Muslim women to their vulnerability to HIV and ways to handle prevention in polygamous marriages.
"When HIV enters the family, it divides it, each one accusing the other of bringing the disease - it's worse when we are four women with one man," Mugisa said. "It would be easy to fight HIV as long as the man married to his four wives practised zero grazing [remaining sexually faithful to spouses]."
In the face of the continued refusal by Muslim leaders to accept condom use, some local women say they will do whatever they can to protect themselves. "We need to talk to our husbands and show them the dangers and impacts of HIV. We have to be open about condoms and encourage them to use them if they cannot be faithful," said Kate Kabatoro.
"I cannot come out and tell my husband to use condoms," Mugisa said. "But I buy them for him and place them where he can easily see them so that in case he wants to go out with other women, he can use them and protect us from getting the virus."