The Silent Partner: HIV in Marriage

Women now account for half of the 33 million people living with HIV around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, home to two-thirds of the world’s people living with HIV, women are even harder hit, making up 60 percent of those infected. Not only are women biologically more susceptible than men to HIV, many behavioral and social factors play into women’s vulnerability.

If a young woman is uninfected with HIV at the time of her marriage, traditional wisdom says that she has avoided the disease altogether. More and more, however, research shows that marriage is not enough to protect people from HIV, either women or men.

This documentary, filmed in Kenya, explores some of the complex realities of married women, and how the challenges of HIV prevention in this group defy simple solutions. The film urges a broader, integrated approach to preventing HIV, which includes confronting damaging social norms that put all people—men and women alike—at risk.

This film was produced by Population Action International (PAI) to raise awareness of the risk of HIV transmission within marriage, and to illustrate the particular challenges facing married women. It also shows that traditional approaches to HIV prevention do not meet the needs of married women, because practicing abstinence is unrealistic, because wives cannot control the faithfulness of their husbands, and because they find it difficult to negotiate condom use.

This film is intended to be used as an advocacy tool to inform, provoke discussion, and mobilize political and financial support for evidence-based HIV prevention, sexual and reproductive health and rights programs, and broader social and economic policies to improve the lives of women and their families.

Many steps can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of married women and men to HIV infection, including stronger policies, better prevention strategies, and changes in harmful social norms. These steps can include:

  • Educating men and women about social norms and how those norms negatively impact men and women’s health
  • Building political will to enact and reform policies to reduce women’s vulnerability
  • Ensuring legal protections for women’s property and inheritance rights
  • Enacting and enforcing laws against domestic violence and rape, including marital rape
  • Achieving equality in girls’ education at all levels
  • Increasing HIV counseling and testing focused on couples
  • Developing programs that promote condom use among married couples
  • Integrating HIV services with family planning and reproductive health services to reach more married women with information and support. Such programs also have a history of increasing male involvement in reproductive health decision making.

Visit the official Silent Partner film web site at